How do we mourn?

Guest post by Frank Garrett

imageWhat are we mourning for? In our busy, noisy complicated world we don’t have time for such questions. But this current quarantine situation has provided time to ask, to wonder, what have we lost, what do we stand to lose, how do we grieve for those?

The very social nature of humanity is based on caring, loving, nurturing, connection and loss. I wasn’t present when either of my parents died, I had much to say that was left unsaid, but the last time I did see them there was no shortage of hugs, kisses and physical connection even though they were not dying then. I can’t imagine how folks are dealing with saying goodbye through a phone and many layers of personal protective equipment from a distance. How do we mourn like that? How do we have connection through the layers?

Care, social connection and nurturing start with touch and minimal barriers between the patient and care giver. Mirror neurons reside in the prefrontal cortex, they help us interpret and understand the intentions of others, they are the first non-verbal communication to develop between an infant and parents. But when we cover the face with PPE designed to protect, it also blocks these signals, sure patients rationally understand Doctors and Nurses are there to help, to care and ease suffering. Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D., The body keeps the score- Brain, Mind, and Body in the healing of Trauma. (Penguin Books 2014) How do we mourn when the visual signals are blocked, when the empathy embodied in our eyes or tension in the lips are obscured?

One empathetic young woman understands this and has developed masks specifically for patients who read lips, she can’t keep up to the orders and requests because many in health care understand this aspect. So, if individuals and family’s losing loved ones in this pandemic is considered acute mourning and grief, words left unsaid, emotions not expressed. Then as survivors are we all chronically mourning; for what have we lost collectively.

We crave connection and belonging, to be part of the fabric that is woven through society, our community our tribe. When the ability to connect and be socially active is taken away, when we are asked to “shelter in place” “self-isolate” “quarantine” or practice “physical distancing” for long periods we lose that critical connection, we miss those hugs, that touch and that connection to our family, friends and community. Mourning for our loss of freedom, our social connection, our autonomy and control over our own lives becomes more and more important. So how do we mourn, for the loss of these, how do we share, how do we express this grief when most of us are not even conscious of it?

Rationally, consciously, if we think about it we understand the need to stay sequestered in our homes but so much of what we do is done unconsciously, when that sun shines after 10 months of snow and winter, we simply migrate outside , the rebirth following the cold winter is a blossoming of the soul, like the flowers so ritualized in mourning.

How do we mourn, how do we express loss and grief, everyone does it differently and no conversation on the topic would be complete without a mention of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross MD, who has written a number of books on death, dying, grief, loss and living, these are such personal embodied acts no one can tell you what is right and wrong, what we learn as we move through the process that helps us learn and grow. Long before my father left us for good we asked if he could share any wisdom to ease the pain. He said no, If I had the wisdom, giving it to you would rob you of the experience, and the learning that comes with it.

3 Replies to “How do we mourn?”

  1. Wise words Frank. How important to reflect on loss in the context of risk. Of course, in zero there is no mourning because one is punished for even talking about loss.

    1. A good article Bernard with huge application for Safety. The sector through zero suppresses many things like grief and loss just as it says precious little about wisdom, learning and imagination. The script has been written by hidden shibboleths that are observed because zero is the mantra. When a number defines what is taboo then rituals follow from that belief that suppress discussion of loss and amplify numerics as reality. In this case the Safety Silences are evident in what the AIHS BoK defines safety should be concerned about and, its none of these things. As it creeps into the 40s and 50s in chapters it still says nothing about ethics, wisdom, personhood, care, helping, loss or humanising risk.

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