mothers die too young.

again i’m reminded of the vastly underappreciated thomas bernhard’s the voice imitator, a collection of one hundred four short stories, none longer than a page. one such story is reprinted below:


for years after our mother’s death, the post office continued to deliver letters addressed to her. the post office had taken no notice of her death.

it’s left me wondering what happens to people when they die. i don’t mean to suggest that i’m suddenly questioning the existence of heaven or the role that souls play following our deaths. instead i’m thinking about how strange it is that someone’s passing can have such a profound effect on one person, while not even registering with another.

it speaks to our isolation in the world — why we form friendships, why we procreate, why we marry, in order to feel less lonely. we are forced to weather great losses, more or less alone, as others can continue through their daily lives completely unaware of the things that keep us awake.

there’s such a push to find peace, to move on after suffering a loss. there are countless books which purport to help us overcome grief and reconcile ourselves to casualty, but i’ve come to find this approach rather naive. why are we expected to ignore or dull our feeling of emptiness? why is it considered healthier to act as if we aren’t shaken?

it’s sobering enough that we die with so few people who care about us even before taking into account that the bereaved are being advised not to worry, are being told that we are now in a better place free of pain, are implored to choose the route that distances them from their sorrow and connection to the departed. i think to promote these as the only viable options is to reject humankind’s capacity for resiliency. certainly we can relive or immerse ourselves in difficult emotional situations in our past without causing massive disruption in our own life. we can be productive even if periodically held captive by depression.

in every culture and throughout history there exist rules governing mourning, determining such things as length of the mourning period, clothing, and behavior. these practices are seen as statements of respect, solidarity, and commemoration, but if that is indeed the case, then why do they require a finite duration? it seems arbitrary (and heartless) to conclude that we cannot, in our own way, lament eternally. otherwise we eventually become like the mail carrier in bernhard’s story, pretending that nothing has changed, imagining that, this afternoon, the phone will ring, our mothers waiting for us to answer and tell them what we ended up making for dinner last night.


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One Response to “mothers die too young.”

  1. Mark Says:

    Very insightful. It is true that in a lot of ways we are taught to fight strong feelings, even good ones sometimes. Such matters can be infinitely complicated and yet so simple too.

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