Somewhere behind the cellar doors of our minds, 5 stages of grief are enlisted like a nursery rhyme: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. We all know them by heart, but it isn’t until we find ourselves healing anew that we acknowledge the process. There’s no telling in which disguise they will appear or how long any of them will last – like always, when we’re robbed of those we love and cherish the most, the uncertainty of coping with death is the headrest to handle.
Once faced with the stark inevitability of demise, those left behind resort to many different psychological mechanisms. Some turn to faith to find comfort in silent prayers; for others, consistent work seems the only productive way of overcoming death with life. Still, not all coping mechanisms are equally healthy, nor do they all lead towards successful reconciliation with the harsh ways of nature.
Some, however, teach us to choose prevalence over withdrawal. They are patient, but aware of the emotional wounds we’ve been afflicted with; celebration of life is their mutual motive. For that, these grieving mechanisms are considered the healthiest and most certain support systems in our eternal struggle with death, however ruthless it may be.
Legacy & Creation
It’s norms that define artworks, but isn’t every form of creation an art in its own way? If so, then every trace a person makes and leaves behind is a unique and valuable pièce de résistance. Nobody leaves this world without making at least one footprint in the snow, and it’s up to us mourners to celebrate and protect them from getting buried in the blizzard.
Honouring the legacy of our dearly departed is a coping mechanism that makes memories ever-lasting and tangible. In Switzerland, jewellers create memorial diamonds from ashes of cremated decedents, thus giving those left behind a chance to find comfort in the pure poetry of metamorphosis. The idea of organic burial pods developed in Italy brings the same kind of consolation – the realization that nothing ever evanesces, but only passes on, from one form to another.
The Art of Being Human
Speaking of forms, both art and creation have an endless number of possible ones. Some grievers choose to roll up their sleeves and start working, thus creating something from nothing; some, as we’ve seen, reach out to others to create palpable memories of their deceased ones. Opening a book, nevertheless, is an equally productive way of healing through art.
Instead of creating something new, mourners can find solace in what’s already been created. Emerging oneself in fiction is risky, but worthwhile – risky, because these alternate universes might be too hard to leave, but worthwhile because they always teach us to see the beauties of our own world. Be that a classic of world literature, a smart, utterly humane cinema piece, an emotionally liberating tune or a grieving book, the art holds the key to the oldest question in the universe – what is the meaning of it all? Unmercifully, this question tantalizes philosophers, artists and mourners alike.
From ashes to ashes, from dust to dust, says the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, reminding us that we all eventually return to where we came from. Ultimately, nature is both our bassinet and our deathbed, and we’re nothing but a speck of dust in its principles of creation, its higher plan. That’s why returning back to our ancient roots is so healing, comforting, and empowering.
Spiritual pilgrimages are old as time, and not every kind needs to be religiously nuanced. However deprived of a holy purpose, a hiking trip is just as elevating – the great outdoors remind of the great lifecycle that we’re all a part of, thus putting things in a different perspective. The stillness and silence of nature can be emotionally overbearing, allowing us to mourn, think, reevaluate and reinvent ourselves, until we eventually accept that, in the face of it all, we’re not and cannot be eternal.
One Ritual at the Time
Sudden or not, death is always a disturbance in the otherwise balanced force that we like to think life is. We spend our days trying to settle and find certainty, and we forget just how fragile we are; never late to remind us, death brings chaos to the order we’ve worked so hard to establish. The lack of control is, consequently, one of the biggest struggles that grievers experience.
For no other reason but regaining that control, mourning rituals urge us to visit our diseased ones’ graves every week. Orthodox Christians honour a great number of post-burial rituals, without even realizing their ultimate purpose – to occupy their minds with mundane affairs, instead of succumbing to overwhelming sadness, and restore (create) order once it’s been interrupted. Religious or not, little rituals are immensely powerful coping mechanisms, and psychologists have confirmed that with numerous studies.
Creativity takes courage, Matisse claimed, and mourners need nothing more. Denial, anger, bargaining and depression all make us forget how brave we truly are, but it is the courage we need in order to accept our grief. That’s why no mourning process is ever over until we create our shattered lives anew.