Mourning – a mystery

I have found it hard to write about mourning and grief. Even Hobbes barely mentions it, perhaps because it was too painful, which in my own circumstance I understand. The late national mourning is sincere but of a different quality from genuine, gnawing, personal grief.

Grief and mourning are connected but distinct. Grief is internal, a stabbing at the heart – mourning is best described as a public act. It is an outward expression of grief, or of what should, socially, be required as grief. Perhaps it helps in the grieving process by letting out a pent-up tension within. Perhaps instead it makes the grief worse by serving as a reminder of things put out of mind, and because of the expectation that it will come to an end, when the grief never will.

The only reference to mourning in Leviathan is in an examination of the distortions used to justify the unscriptural Romanist doctrine of Purgatory: that the act of mourning is directed at a soul not placed yet in Heaven or Hell, which is a nonsense: “And thus with hard straining, hee has wrested those places to the proofe of a Purgatory”

whereas it is manifest, that the ceremonies of Mourning, and Fasting, when they are used for the death of men, whose life was not profitable to the Mourners, they are used for honours sake to their persons; and when tis done for the death of them by whose life the Mourners had benefit, it proceeds from their particular dammage: And so David honoured Saul, and Abner, with his Fasting; and in the death of his owne child, recomforted himselfe, by receiving his ordinary food.

No more does he say. As his life drew to a close, Hobbes wrote a Latin poem, later translated, telling the story of his own life. It is not a jewel of poetry, but shows the writer’s own priorities. At no point does he mention the death of his mother or of his father. Nowhere does he pity himself for having never married and produced progeny, so intense was his work. This does not mean that he did not grief or that he did not mourn. When his mother died we do not know – she is mentioned only in relation to giving birth at the shock of the approach of the Armada. There are things one does not write of, which are too painful. In those things there may be no outward morning, but grief, real grief there is indeed.

Why we mourn is individual. Every society has its rituals. They began as ways to rationalise grief and alleviate it perhaps in celebration of the achievements of the departed. In each culture they grow though to mocking versions of the original, into elaborate ceremonies of obligation that increase the pressure on the family, and impliedly condemn those who do not follow the prescribed form. Just as you want t crawl into a corner and hide from the world, you are dragged into what is effectively a tortuous party. Several cultures have the concept of professional mourners, which is a horrid mockery.

Perhaps the current restriction on funerals, to thirty people, is actually a blessing, as it tears away the social obligation to gather a hundred strangers with a hundred personal animosities together for a shadow-play, when you want to go and weep alone.

Author: LittleHobb

Solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short

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