Death is an awakening.Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace
There are few things that is as life affirming as death. But this is often confounded by the confusing cocktail of emotions surrounding death. We are expected to be sad in the face of death for there is a loss. We are allowed to progress through the 5 stages of grief. But is that all we feel? Liberating Losses: When Death Brings Relief by Jennifer Elison and Chris McGonigle uses the power of story telling to reclaim disenfranchised emotions, particularly those surrounding death and loss, from the realms of taboo and the unspeakable.
Death is terribly finite. Perhaps this is why we deny it, throughout our lives, clinging on to our non existing specialness so as to negate the possibility of death. Yet when someone dies there are formulas of grief for the rest of us. We cry, we come together to indulge in the grief, we use rituals to synthesize meaning and most importantly, we deify the dead. We never speak ill of the dead. We grieve them for the angels they were, even if they weren’t particularly angelic but we deny our feelings for the human we used to know. But, death being terribly finite is comforting in the face of a miserable life. It can soothe the person who suffers the ordeal and its relief can ripple out to their loved ones, for they no longer have to endure vicariously.
Our responses to loss and grief are varied. Sometimes people experience anticipatory grief when loss is inevitable. Sometimes grief is delayed and sometimes grief is distorted into rage or madness. All of these deviate from the expected versions of grief and so they end up disenfranchised. But they need not be. Jennifer and Chris uses real life stories to bring perspective to all these shades of grief. Through these stories and these feelings weighed down with guilt and shame, they show us what it is to be human.
In these wildly different portraits of bereavement, as against the neatly organized 5 stages put forth by Kubler Ross, we get a chance to explore the nuanced difficulties of being human. They explore how it is human to take time to come to terms with our unfinished businesses with the people we’ve lost. The stories tell us how it is okay to miss those who have hurt us. They show us the hope in recognizing the human in them and owning their contributions in our life. They reveal to us that death and loss could be an important gift as we learn to integrate it into the spectrum of life.
Ultimately these stories makes us wonder when and how losses liberate us. The key to this lies in how we find, reclaim and honor ourselves after the loss and how we move on. This comes with the realization that nothing is lost, but that everything is in a flux. It happens as we learn to forgive and embrace things as they are. Then death whispers to us to not stand at the grave and weep but to feel what we feel instead of what we are supposed to feel. That is one way to be more alive, more human.