Absence Does Not Make The Heart Grow Fonder


When it comes to mourning the lost of a loved one the process is unique to each individual and has no expiration time.  My father passed away last year and I have been repressing any types of emotions.  The control of emotions  turns out to be an absurd concept and practically impossible.  One can only control how to deal with  emotions, or choose to acknowledge them and let them drive one’s actions.  My case would fall outside of either one of these categories for that I squarely chose to ignore my emotions.  In theory, ignorance of something reduces its power but would this also apply to denial?  Does denying a fact make it less real?  Repressing my emotions only delays the process of dealing with them. Death is inevitable and could be considered a part of life – the final phase of our life in the physical world.  When a loved one reaches that final phase, we are left to live with their absence.  As Dr. Thomas Attig points out, we must relearn to live and love the deceased in their absence. He also states that feeling helpless may cause one to refuse to accept “the choiceless event” of one’s death.  The acceptance of my father’s death was out of the question for this reason.  I was never given a choice.  But this is how death operates.  It constantly lurks around and answers to no one.  We have no knowledge of it; except for that of its existence.  It will consume me (and every single one of us) one day.  However, although I am aware of that, I will never be ready.  We are never ready to see a loved one being taken away from us.

My way of coping was to mourn a fictitious character whose absence I present in the photographic series “Mourning Sophie”, therefore creating a controlled reality as a way of pausing the reality that was inflicted upon me.    The reason for my grief – Sophie’s death – is unreal but I controlled all the elements in place.  Sophie is revealed through the objects and spaces that she used and occupied when she was alive.  I had to invade her fictitious privacy and by doing so I realized that one’s privacy is only temporary.  When one reaches the final phase of life her or his privacy ceases to exist.  The feelings of guilt from intruding as I did are therefore unjustifiable from this perspective.  Sophie’s privacy is something of the past.  One’s level of attachment to the deceased will inevitably dictate how she or he handles the vanishment of privacy.  We might find it disrespectful to access what we have known to be secretly preserved by the deceased so we would put in place our own set of boundaries to replace the lost ones.  Or we might see it as an opportunity to uncover the “truth” about the deceased so we would go on a quest for emotional gain.  Either way mourning is not about the deceased.  It is the process through which the ones left behind are anguishing over loss.  Losing someone means losing what they were giving us, how they made us feel wether it be companionship, security, emotional support, joy, and so on.  It is very much like the concept of loving someone with whom we have no genetic bonds.  Love is not about the person we say we love but instead it is about the way that person is or what he or she does that benefits us. If we were to analyze the most popular reasons why people say they love one another this fact becomes obvious.   A few examples:

“I love you because you make me happy

I love you because you make me feel safe and secure

I love the fact that when I’m around you I can be myself…”

“ I love how I know you’ll always be there when I need you to be.

I love the way you treat me.”

I rest my case. Next please! Alright, for the sake of a fair argument here is a more complicated one:

“You are part of my existence, part of myself. You have been in every line I have ever read, since I first came here, the rough common boy whose poor heart you wounded even then. […] You have been the embodiment of every graceful fancy that my mind has ever become acquainted with. The stones of which the strongest London buildings are made, are not more real, or more impossible to be displaced by your hands, than your presence and influence have been to me, there and everywhere, and will be. Estella, to the last hour of my life, you cannot choose but remain part of my character, pad of the little good in me, part of the evil. But, in this separation I associate you only with the good, and I will faithfully hold you to that always, for you must have done me far more good than harm, let me feel now what sharp distress I may.”

Here Pip is speaking of his unrequited for Stella.  He had idealized her to the point where he developed an emotional dependency.  He believed she was part of him. Being with her would have satisfied his emotional needs.

Is it possible for grief to be self-less? Memorializing a public authority figure who has passed is still selfishness but on a greater scale – a collective selfishness.  Being aware or telling ourselves how wonderful the deceased was is nothing but a way of making ourselves feel better while dealing with the loss.  That public authority figure is no longer able to continue her or his enterprise that was beneficial to the community, therefore said community loses that benefit.  We may cherish the deceased ones’ or our ancestors’ legacy but only as it is applicable to us.  I sometimes ask what would be left of me when I die.  Since there will no longer be any privacy, all my personal properties tangible or intellectual will be available to anyone who can get access to them.  They will have the possibility to appropriate and change them however they see fit, or to remove any traces of my existence.  But can personal artifacts tell the story of a deceased person?  Not the whole story nonetheless.

Denial as a part of the grieving process does not lessen the anguish nor does it reduce the reality of the death of a loved one.  Although I am still in denial, the pain of losing my father is not going away.  I miss him caring for me and giving me advice  that would oftentimes hit the wall of my stubbornness.   Since we have already established that grief is a selfish process, it is safe to say that I would have been more friendly with death if it had hit me first, before my loved ones.  I would not have to care about that loss and consequently avoiding any pain or sadness caused by absence. Experiencing death from a deceased ‘s perspective might be a great journey; we simply don’t know.  There are many ways to cope with loss.  Each individual will deal with it differently and depending on factors such as age, environment, culture, religious beliefs, and personal convictions.  As a society, we came up with some practices that we view as the normalcy in regards to bereavement.  For instance, in some cultures, when grieving one is expected to wear black clothing for a set period of time depending on their relationship to the deceased.  While I respect all cultural customs, I think my own culture is fair game when it comes to recognizing the absurdity in some of the things that we say or do.  The black clothing, the wreath made of black  artificial flowers hanging outside of homes, renting a limousine for a trip to the cemetery, and whispers mixed with laughers while enjoying and sipping tea are all part of the rituals – including the woman who hysterically  makes a scene expressing her distress; she is just always there.  Not wearing black would signify that one is not sad because of course sadness has to be visually shown otherwise it is non-existent.  This fact can  sometimes worsen the anxiety of a grieving person who has to worry about social approval on how to grieve.   I will not worry about social approval when I finally decide to grieve.  I will deal with the absence of my father in my own way and reject any superficial formulae  considered culturally appropriate.

I believe the beneficial characteristics assigned to absence are pure fantasy.   In the context of temporary absence we say “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”  This is also applicable when dealing with death and  could explain why we sometimes heroicize the deceased love ones.  From my perspective and given my experience that statement does not hold true.  Going back to the concept of love being an appreciation for what is being given to us, let us try to measure love and quantify it.  Say that love ranges from 0 to 1,000 love units (lu) and my love for Sophie was a 700 lu right before her death.  The elements (her contribution to my well-being) that were fueling that love are no longer happening therefore the love remains a 700 lu.  The same principle would apply to temporary absence.  When a loved one is geographically separated from us their contribution to our happiness is limited and even diminished in some cases.  By heroicizing the deceased we are not loving them any more that we did when they were alive, we are simply holding on to the idea of them as a way of making ourselves feel better.  The idea from the statement “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” is simply a form of consolation not a fact.


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