by Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove
A documentary on TVO, about twins and the impact upon the survivor of losing one’s ‘other half’, made clear how powerful a message can be when the absence of something is the focus. By looking at the size of the loss when one of two is taken, the depth and degree of the attachment is evident.
One of the more affecting stories for me was that of a child whose brother died when they were still quite young (five or six, I believe). The adults’ way of dealing with this was to not talk about it, and to avoid mentioning the loss to the surviving twin. He describes his confusion and ultimate depression as he tried learning to live without the constant reference point that his brother represented. If he wasn’t a twin, what was he? There was no automatic shift in identify, to being a ‘single’. He thinks that if there had been some acknowledgement of the significance of this change, this start of a different life, he could have made the transition with more competence and confidence.
Absence of Communal Acknowledgement
For a long time, I have thought that the absence of communal acknowledgement of an individual’s significant life events can increase emotional isolation. Social avoidance of what really matters to another can eat away at one’s sense of belonging in the world. If no one seems to be paying attention to something that has rocked one to the core, or that initiates a big change in direction and emotional environment, a chance is missed to share that blow or that new journey.
Recognizing – together – that something is important gives our loved ones and ourselves a comfort that we may need to hold in our hearts when lonely and painful moments arise – as they will when change is sizable.
We Do Celebrate – in Excess?
We seem to understand funerals, although many now insist they don’t want any traditional form of goodbye ritual. But there remains a cultural recognition of the need for an opportunity to pay our respects to the dead and to the family.
Many of the remaining rituals of communal acknowledgement – weddings and birthday parties – become hugely expensive and overdone. Is it because there are so few other meaningful social events?
Feast days, like Christmas and Halloween, are adopted as personal forms of expression (not to mention Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s, and Easter). Maybe they are indulged in because they occur when the days are still short and we’re all fighting winter blues?
Yet, many important personal passages remain ignored.
What would I have us attend to?
I’m suggesting any loss of life, not subject to the practice of a funeral, needs recognition. How come a born baby, lost, can be mourned, but not an unborn?
I had four miscarriages (one very successful pregnancy). Family and friends, one by one, conveyed kindness and sympathy. The little lost being was, however, never acknowledged, and the amount of attachment I had already developed after a few months of carrying her or him could somehow never be spoken of. Move on and hope – best therapy.
But was it? I now wish that I had asked my good friends to come over and spend an hour acknowledging each lost unformed life, in silence and words, in some kind of memorial to the brief time that being shared my body. That now seems normal and reasonable. But is it?
What Kind of Recognition am I Talking About?
NOT another greeting card!
Rather, something simple, suited to the impacted person. For me, I would have those dear to me gather, perhaps around a source of light (a candle or fire) or a sign of life (a flower or tree branch) – actual or in imagination – and use words, maybe music, and love to enfold me and my lost treasure. I would hope any peace that ensues to comfort those who cared about me.
Okay, I’ve lost half of you right there. Touchy feely, emotional, you’d feel foolish. Whoever feels that way could stand back. Those choosing to immerse in the gathering will be those who have some need for connection and a sharing of love.
I convinced that it’s better to acknowledge a loss than to brush it off. And people together have more power than myself alone to convey what really matters between us.
Not All ‘Acknowledgement Events” Need be Soulful!
Ten years ago, a wise mother named Rita had a pre-graduation party for a circle of high-school friends – including our girl – who had been together for the past six years and who were now heading out to all different cities to start their independent lives. She included all us parents, who had over time come to quite enjoy each other’s company. We sat in the sun and talked a little about some of the notable school events and watched our young ones chat and cavort (with 17-year-old dignity) and those so inclined were able to feel suitably nostalgic for the stresses and strains and joys of loving these kids. There would be few opportunities to meet again in future years and it was excellent to have this simple event of acknowledging how good it had been.