The work of mourning

Hello Friends –

I want to thank you all for the thoughts and prayers. I thought I would check in and rant for a while. This blog was started as part of my therapy – so I might as well keep going on that.

Those who know me outside of the blog, know that I am a student of history. In particular, the Civil War, in all of it’s craziness. I also grew up in the cemetery industry, my family was 4 generation sextons of a small, country cemetery. Death was something that I grew up around so I am comfortable with the rite and ritual – so to speak.

I bring this up because I believe that we have lost something. There was a time when most of the funerals in America were performed at home. We were not separated from death, it surrounded us, engulfed us, and we walked side by side. Mourning and grief were accepted as normal. Sadness didn’t need to be hidden away.

In Victorian times (the period correlating with the reign of Queen Victoria – which follows through the Civil War and ends in around 1901) there were certain expectations of both those who mourn and the public. Most are familiar with the wearing of all black, but it was much more than that. Those who were in mourning were distinguished by their dark clothing or by the black armband that they wore. The amount of “social expectation” placed on these individuals was minimal. Many of you may think of the scene in Gone With The Wind where Scarlett shows up to a ball and is asked to dance by Rhett. She “scandalizes” the community by dancing with him while in mourning. True mourning of the period was much different, although attending a ball/dance would have been prohibited (except for the young…allowances were made for young people.)

Primarily – people were given the space and the time to mourn. If a person was invited to a dinner or a quiet event; they were allowed to decline without being told, “You really should get out.” Callers could be received or declined without judgments. Social pressure was removed. If you didn’t feel like getting out of your night dress and wrapper – that was allowed. If you felt like going out – that was also allowed. The simple statement of “mourning” was accepted and understood by everyone.

So why do I bring this up? I bring it up because this is where my greatest struggle lies. Last week at work, a co-worker came up to me with a movie called, “This Is Where I Leave You.” She asked me if I had seen it, and I have not, and told me it is really funny and to watch it. The movie is about a death and a family coming to terms with it – it is a comedy. She was somewhat upset that I didn’t want to watch a funny movie about death. I have also had to push off many of Brigid’s friends who want to “get together and talk about her.” Most of them want more details of her death; which we are keeping private. I also find that they want more details of the moment of her death, morbidly fascinated about “how it feels to do CPR” and “why didn’t you know” questions. Well, I didn’t know because she didn’t tell me and doing CPR isn’t that bad; so long as it is a stranger in the ER. Doing CPR on your best friend is more awful than I can put into words. Having the medical knowledge to know that no matter how hard you try she is already gone and that only a miracle will bring her back. Screaming inside for that miracle to happen, emergency vehicle sirens and people speaking but there is no sound. There is no sound – just silence. But the silence isn’t quiet – it is so loud that it roars. So many people who want to connect to her through me – “help me with MY grief.” At the same time I cannot help them. One thing I know is that I cannot be their anchor because I am already drowning. The endless communication and work with the attorneys, the thank you cards, the remnants of her life that I have to count, store, donate. The endless loads of laundry at the Laundromat – each opened box holds her smell and I know that once I wash those things – I will lose that connection forever. At the same time; each load of laundry completed and donated is one more step to completing these tasks. These are the trappings of life that she has no use for – no need to save them.

Too much of our world has lost the etiquette that surrounds mourning. This isn’t to say that I feel like I should be allowed a spot in a corner and to be left alone. On the contrary; certain people that I am close to have been my rock and my refuge. They have been the voice of reason – special thanks to Jay and Myst. At the same time; intrusion is at times overwhelming. I also find that too many people are wanting to play the game of, “I knew her longer” and “I loved her more.” I care not to argue with those people. At the same time I also choose not to repeat what Brigid actually thought about some of them. She was a kind soul who would not always push away a broken person – no matter how crazy they drove her!

So I spend my mornings in the shower in tears. I cry alone in the car. I whine to my therapist! All other times I slap a smile on my face and push forward. It is unhealthy, it isn’t honest, and it isn’t what I should be doing. Even with my husband I do this – though I long to tell him so badly exactly how much I hurt. I know that he wants to understand, but more important he wants to FIX it. He can’t fix it. He can’t stop the pain, but since he can’t fix it he can’t deal with it. So I smile and I make jokes – and I privately maintain my rituals.

Mourning doesn’t end when the casket closes. In fact, it only begins. I know that once the estate is closed and the work is done – I will have to find new ways to mourn and cope. In Victorian times – mourning was a minimum of one year – for those in deep mourning it was for two years. How I long for the permission to do that; publicly without judgment. To dress in black and be excused from the requirements of society…no; to be excused from cruel words and harsh statements. To be allowed to take care of myself. To heal with some manner of peace – even if that healing comes in an ocean of tears.




2 Responses to “The work of mourning”

  1. Laura Boots Says:

    dear Joan,
    I wish I would have seen this earlier as I dated him recently and was abused by eric jason horner hiawatha iowa also.

    • enemyinthewire Says:

      Dear Laura,

      Your words have shaken me to the very core. Thank you for having the courage to comment.

      I am so glad you got out and got away! I am so glad that you are here. Believe it or not, it gives some meaning to what Brigid suffered. When we did events about Military Sexual Trauma we used to remind on another to just “reach one…help one.”

      We are probably geographically close to one another…I will email you my private email if you need to reach out.

      Peace and Hugs.


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