Grief is a multifaceted response to loss, particularly to the loss of someone or something that has died, to which a bond or affection was formed. Although conventionally focused on the emotional response to loss, it also has physical, cognitive, behavioral, social, cultural, and philosophical dimensions. While the terms are often used interchangeably, bereavement refers to the state of loss, and grief is the reaction to loss.
Not everyone grieves the same, and what I am about to write is just me expressing what has crossed my mind in the past and what is crossing my mind right now.
Edited To Add: apparently, the sound on that clip is too low for some to hear. Paraphrasing, the transcript of the clip can be boiled down to this:
Inara (the woman): “You don’t have to die alone.”
Mal (the man): “Everybody dies alone.”
The scene is about him staying with his ship (dead in space) while they go off in the shuttles looking for help. At this point of the story, his chances of surviving if he stays on the ship are not that good.
That scene is from the Firefly episode Out of Gas, one of my favorite episodes in the series.
It sounds profound. It sounds like something a mystic might say. The phrase goes back a way if one cares to research it, and there are many interpretations as to the actual meaning. Jim Butcher uses it in the book Dead Beat of the Dresden Files series and gives an interpretation I (mostly) like:
“Son. Everyone dies alone. That’s what it is. It’s a door. It’s one person wide. When you go through it, you do it alone. But it doesn’t mean you’ve got to be alone before you go through the door. And believe me, you aren’t alone on the other side.”
Two-thirds of humans ascribe to the pronouncement about the other side. I’m not one of them. But, I can get behind the idea of a door one person wide. In those last few moments, no matter the company you are with, no matter the setting, you take that step on your own.
I think that is why so many people are afraid of it, even some people who believe something wonderful is waiting for them on the other side.
Believing that this world is all we will ever experience likely leads to a different sort of grief from that born from believing we continue on. I say “likely” because I don’t know. Grief is a personal thing and I can’t say I’ve ever been able to express the breadth and depth of it and neither have I heard anyone express theirs in a way that had me understand — fully understand — what the person was going through.
Too powerful for words, is what comes to mind when I think of grief.
There are two parts to the sorrow associated with grief. One is sometimes directed at the person who died, and it takes the form of — for lack of a better phrase — feeling sorry for them.
Except, that person is no more. No matter what you believe, the person you knew, their personality, their fears, hopes, likes, dislikes, accomplishments, failures, in short, the totality of them is no more.
I think, then, that feeling sorry for them is rooted in imagining ourselves in their place.
That is a paradoxical form of grieving; it is a form of empathy, and to my mind, we feel as much sorry for our own eventual fate as we do for that of the person we lost.
I’m probably not expressing it correctly, but I base my thinking on the fact that person is either no more, and hence beyond us feeling sorry for them, or is in a better place, and hence feeling sorry for them makes no sense beyond us seeing our own fate reflected in their passing.
Understand, I don’t know what others feel. Heck, I can hardly express how I feel. But, if I think about it, if I think about what “feeling sorry” for others means in general terms, I conclude it means we would feel sorry if we were in their place.
The other part of grief is the one rooted in our own sense of loss.
While selfish, it is nonetheless the true measure of what the person meant to us. It speaks to the impact the person had in our lives. It is the purest form of appreciation I can think of when I think about people I’ve met in my life.
Some will leave a void if/when they die before I do. Some will merit a passing thought of sorrow, marking their loss with a few memories of past interactions. The vast majority will elicit little response beyond acknowledging that it has happened.
Yes, for that last sentence some will think me a monster, but I cannot — beyond contemplating the tragedy of human mortality — feel a personal sense of loss for someone far removed from my life.
We console others for the loss of their loved ones in an attempt to help the person bear the grief of their loss, or at least that’s how I interpret it.
Some will say things like “they are in a better place” or more direct religious pronouncements regarding how this or that deity had a part in the unfolding of events.
Again, that is not me. I can only provide what I am capable of; acknowledging the deceased was a person of merit, worthy of being mourned and remembered. A person who mattered.
Mary passed away yesterday. She was our neighbor at the condo, a nice lady with a good sense of humor, an interesting person who lived an interesting life, a person we only knew for a month, but who impressed both of us. She was a person we would have liked to have known better, but who even in the short time we knew her came to matter to us.
She liked the color blue, she liked Hawai’i and she loved fireworks.
We grieve her passing and will remember her.