Yesterday I attended my 4th funeral in a year, and my 10th in 10 years; most of them for loved ones who left far too soon by suicide. I also missed some other funerals I’d have liked to attend over those years. I luckily had a chance to ride to this funeral with some friends who I loved, but had never talked about anything really personal or deep before. As we talked it was fairly light and reminiscent of our lost friend, but we all shared a bit of our other recent losses. They had lost friends, family, and loved ones too, and this was our second funeral this year we’d been to together. It’s interesting to me how a shared experience helps you share more of yourself with others than you normally would.
I usually don’t want to tell anyone the breadth of my personal loss for fear of adding a burden to their lives, or being defined as the guy who’s loved ones keep dying, or just knowing it’s hard to relate to the wildness of it all, or not wanting to be preached to. You may think to yourself, as someone who knows me or loves me, that you’d be happy for me to talk to you about this and it won’t be too much to bear. But there are a lot of dynamics to these things. You have to be quite close to someone to be this personal, and be emotional with them, and I add for myself, especially for men who are taught to never be emotional. For people that close, you also have an instinct to protect them and not over-burden them beyond your normal life struggles together.
These fears and discomfort of sharing with others are at the same time wrong, because our loved ones really do want to help and lift us up when they can, but also right, because it is possible to put too much on friends who are not trained to deal with these kinds of issues and can only offer love, which is important, but not enough. Also, we’re in a world of pure emotion here, and logic doesn’t matter in this world. And that’s OK.
Anyway, what I really wanted to get to was how healing it can be to be with others who are suffering the same thing as you are. I believe this extends way beyond the deaths of loved ones I’m talking about here. As we were talking, even when it was about other topics, I was simply enjoying being with them knowing they understood the undercurrent of my life. I’ve been doing this thing lately where I point out to myself why a given moment is nice and telling myself to enjoy it. I had many such personal moments with these friends and others at the funeral.
Another thing that I found wonderful was that as they shared some stories of their losses, it didn’t add to my suffering, it lifted it. As I shared some of my stories, it was relieving to me because I felt I wasn’t adding to theirs either, and I hope it was as lifting to them as theirs was to me.
This isn’t the first time I’ve had an experience like this. Almost exactly a year ago I was driving with two friends from Portland to Salt Lake City for another funeral. We had lost multiple friends together over the years. That long trip was also wonderful for me and incredibly healing. I was focused on writing something else at that time, and didn’t reflect on these thoughts other than expressing them to some friends.
I believe I never started really mourning most of these losses until that trip a year ago. I was in a fairly deep depression at the time, and was dealing with a lot of other life difficulties when that trip happened. Looking back, I think finally sharing stories of my loved ones helped me realize how little I had resolved my feelings and fears, especially for some cases in particular. I also realized how much of myself I had shut off to not have to do that.
Returning to yesterday, we discussed a little bit what it means to mourn. First of all: I have no idea. I didn’t really mourn for almost a decade, and am just starting to get through it a little bit now. But that’s also hampered by repeated losses without enough time to recover. Anyway, I think, for me, the largest part of mourning is sharing: stories, emotions, experiences. Funerals are mourning because you’re sharing all that with many others for the same person. Telling a story about your lost loved one is mourning. Expressing your feelings of loss, frustration, anger, or exasperation is mourning. Being with and doing things with others going through the same thing is mourning. Writing about your loss for yourself, and maybe for others, is mourning. In effect, trying to live your life and not pretending the loss didn’t happen is mourning. It’s part of you, and everything you do. Accept that.
I’ve heard so many times that it just takes time for the pain to lessen and to have less of an effect on your life. Let me tell you, that’s not necessarily true. If you live like it didn’t happen, it won’t get better. I know that because I can see, just a glimpse, how my life has been affected for 10 years by just moving on as if nothing happened. It hasn’t been until the last year where I’ve lived as if these losses are part of my life that I think I’ve begun to heal. So, I think it’s probably true that it gets better with time, but I think only if you live with the loss instead of without it. I’ll maybe let you know when I find out.