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Lev Raphael

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Don't Let Anyone Tell You How to Mourn!

Posted: 09/26/11 03:46 PM ET

A friend's father just died only two weeks after being diagnosed with cancer. He was only 72 and the diagnosis and death were a real shock.

People told my friend, "Don't worry, it'll pass, you'll get over it." He felt pressured, not comforted. He'd barely begun to understand the depth of his loss and he was supposed to get over it?

Another friend in a similar situation heard this from someone she was really close to: "Don't get so upset, it happens to everyone. We all lose our parents. You're not special."

More and more, I hear stories about people being told to stifle their grief, to get over it, or to work towards "closure." Well, my mother died in 1999 after years of dementia and I do not have closure and I don't want it.

When she disappeared in the early 90s, I lost all connection with her. We couldn't talk anymore about anything and she was a woman of many opinions. I wrote about losing contact with her in an essay and that was the first step of mourning. It won a contest judged by D.M. Thomas, which was sadly ironic, since she was a Holocaust survivor and Thomas was of course best known for his amazing novel The White Hotel, whose main character is murdered in the Holocaust.

My mother was an avid reader of all sorts of books. She would have been proud, but she never got to see my publishing success, my burgeoning career. I've written about her as recently as 2009 in my memoir My Germany, and have other plans to write more.

Whenever I reach a new marker, like Michigan State University purchasing my literary papers for its archives, I think of her, of what it would have been like to share the news, reflect on it with her in her inimitable way. My mother was witty, deep, given to historical observations.

I lost the chance to ask her questions I didn't even know I had, I lost access to her past and her family's through her, and she also took a huge chunk of my own life when she died -- twice, as I see it.

I feel her loss more often than I ever imagined I would. I don't want to let go, I don't want closure. Her memory uplifts and inspires me.

It's not easy to tolerate someone else's grief, but it's cruel to tell people how to manage their grief, or how long they should mourn, or in what ways. Loss should be respected, not stifled or judged.

 
 
 

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