In the Jewish tradition the mourners are a distinct group. They are the parents, children, siblings and spouse of the deceased. At the funerals I went to while growing up in Montreal, the mourners sat in a special section upfront near the closed casket and the rabbi. I remember feeling envious of them in a confusing sort of way. Only now am I beginning to understand why.
By way of their special status, the mourners are given permission and encouragement to express their grief. I’ve been to funerals where I didn’t personally know the deceased or didn’t know them well. But it didn’t matter. The louder and more emotional the mourners’ cries, the more tears I shed. What was at the source of my grief?
Our worship of death stands in the way of love
In the introduction to her international bestseller titled “All About Love”, bell hooks writes, “It is far easier to talk about loss than it is to talk about love. It is easier to articulate the pain of love’s absence than to describe its presence and meaning in our lives.” And then in the chapter titled, Loss: Loving into Life and Death, she elaborates that “In our culture the worship of death is so intense it stands in the way of love.” And a few paragraphs later she writes, “Our cultural obsession with death consumes energy that could be given to the art of loving.”
Being obsessed with death, I understand now, is really about being obsessed with—and, I would venture to say, longing for—true love.
One only has to think about how communities unite around mass shootings, natural disasters and other tragic deaths. When death happens we tend to show our love more intensely than we do in everyday life.
Many of us only come to love when faced with serious illness or death. This is exactly what I experienced with my father in his dying months, which I wrote about in Dying and the Medicine of Healing Relationships.
Having death as a guide in my life empowers me to be myself and to live and love fully.
When people ask me why I’m doing the work I’m do with WILLOW, I often speak about my love of going to funerals. While reading bell hooks’ book recently, I discovered that my lifelong attraction to funerals is that they create a time and space for me to cosy up to my desire for more and deeper love.
What about you?
Think about the love you have or desire in your life. Are you giving it enough energy? How does it compare it to the energy you give to pain and loss?