I’ve just finished reading Love’s Executioner (Penguin, £9.99), by renowned American psychiatrist Irvin Yalom. He is most famous for having identified the four givens of the human condition – isolation, meaninglessness, freedom and mortality. In other words, the things that frighten humans most; our sense of aloneness, that we have a purpose in life, that we must take responsibility for our actions and the condition that frightens us most, that we are all going to die.
Yalom wrote a lot about death and there is one thing he says in this book that has really stayed with me… ‘if one is to learn to live with the dead, one must first learn to live with the living.’ The context in which he writes this is regarding a client who is stuck in her grief for her daughter. This woman is so consumed in the pain from her daughter’s death, she is unable to see and be with her two sons, who are still alive.
This is very common in grief. People cling to the dead person so much that the people still alive become as dead to them as the deceased. I didn’t realise it at the time, but I’m sure that after my mother died, every now and then I would disengage from life and the people around me and occupy myself in my mind where I could feel closest to Mum.
But, as Yalom says, this is not really living. And if we are to find some way back to life after death, we must allow room for those that have not died to be there too. We need to trust that in doing this, we are not diminishing the place in our heart for our lost loved one. That place will always be there.
Annie Broadbent (@anniebroadbent), our guest blogger, lost her mother two years ago to breast cancer and began writing about her experience of grief. Her book, We Need To Talk About Grief, a guide for friends of the bereaved, will be published by Piatkus in November. Check out Annie's blog, Good Grief, here