The Grief

In this week's First Impressions I begin with these words

We all die. But we like to think we can do an end run around death. It shows up in our sympathy for those who must remain childless, and in that apparently irresistible question with its underlying disapproval: "When will you have children, Dear?" There is special significance and pain where there is no child for the continuance of the family line.  Speaking of the world of the Sadducees [who feature in the reading for the week], James Alison says, "The only way of bluffing past the universal reign of death was by having children... The only way to have a blessing in the land of the living was by having children, descendants."  (Raising Abel pp36) We are not much different.

I suspect this is one reason the climate catastrophe is so confronting, as is the fear of nuclear devastation when we remember it: Climate catastrophe means we all come to the end of the line. (The End of the Line?)

Interrogating my own affect in the last few weeks, I find I am burdened with apathy and a great loss of energy. I am not my usual melancholic self. Instead, I struggle to do anything, even the things I enjoy.  Occasionally I get lost in a task, for a while, and then the tiredness returns, stained with hopelessness, and threatening that loss of feeling that marks a depressive episode. I am having trouble sleeping. I keep wanting to weep.

My friend Don died a couple of weeks ago. Really, we were more acquaintances than friends, but liked each other a lot. If we were working together, or were in the same congregation, deep friendship may have developed; we really liked each other. I keep losing his name in my memory, and as I dig about for it, I come up with Mel, which was my father's name. Something in me is deeply angry about Don's death and it keeps popping up through my flattened affect in a way I don't quite remember previous deaths intruding.

I've not been able to read all the recent Bioscience statement which surprises me. After all, it vindicates the work I am doing.  I am struggling for enthusiasm about a new project in my congregation, and with anything to do with work at all.

All of this has a familiar feeling about it.  It's the "what's the point of anything given that I'm going to die" grief which I felt after a devastating medical event. It's what I read about in pastoral studies on the shape of grief. 

The climate catastrophe deeply interrogates the reason we choose to live. In Christian language, it severely challenges our faith in the Christ.  Do we live because we have trust that his way of living is simply Good, or have we been living because there is a human future in our children and in our continuance as a species?  Is it that we have secretly been making an end run around death with all our busyness and community building, and are suddenly discovering that death for all of us is not some distant unimaginable future billions of years hence when the sun engulfs the planet. Death for all of us may be in a very imaginable and few years.

No wonder the politicians are shrill in their ignoring the signs and shoring up of the coal miners. To look at this is devastating. It is to look at our own dying and know that not even our children go on.

Andrew Prior (Nov 2019)


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