People die, we remember them

Katarzyna Woynarowska

Anna could not understand the course of the world for a long time. She did not know why she was surrounded by laughing people, why she could hear pedestrians’ voices, why she could see colours, the sun and the green fields. Someone’s happiness irritated her. Even a nice day was some punishment. Why were all those things happening when her little son died? Why did not the world die with him? Like she died with him. The reality did not matter. She could only feel pain, negation. She was angry at her fate, at Lord God, herself and her husband. Then she was deeply depressed. Her grief was so infinite that she cried for months. And finally, what seemed impossible: her return to life although, to make things clear, she will always harbour some shadow in her heart, memories that things might have looked differently... Anna remembers sitting and listening to people or only sitting by herself. Let her witness infinite monologues, laments; let her hug somebody; let her cry aloud. Suppressing one’s painful feelings is the worst solution in mourning.
But as sociologists report most of us avoid meeting people when we mourn someone’s death. We do that because we are afraid of seeing people’s pain, because we do not know how to behave in such situations. We behave like that because we have good manners. We are convinced that we should not meddle in other people’s affairs. But it should be the other way round. It is sinful to leave someone in grief. Jan was with his mother to the very end. She was dying for several months; she was drifting in and out of consciousness. It happened in a multi-generational family. The room of Jan’s teen sons was next to the bedroom of the dying grandmother. On the ground floor there was a kitchen, which was always full of people’s voices and smells. Jan saw certain symbolism of human existence in that unique situation when life merged with death. He saw people passing away, which was the inevitable end written in every step, gesture, feeling. ‘My mum’s passing away was nicely interwoven with our daily life. My sons used to sit by their grandma and read the works by Sienkiewicz, even when she lost consciousness. When her painkillers worked she could talk and recollect some events. We were taming pain and the boys learnt to deal with death. We do not want our children to think that people simply dematerialise at some age. We had to prepare them to see the inevitable, that we are bound to die, we are bound to feel sorrow, grief after losing our beloved ones... We were crying for a long time when my mother passed away. In fact, we have not moved anything in her room yet.’
Magda was 25 when she was widowed. ‘My husband had some malicious bone cancer. I felt so badly that I wanted to bump into a wall but the thought of leaving my children prevented me from that desperate deed. I neither ate nor slept. I did not want to talk to my children. I lost too much weight, and in my inner self I felt thin as if my heart contracted. My friend, who was a nun, gave me a rosary. She tried to convince me that it would help. I spontaneously put it into my pocket. Suddenly, when things got worse I found it. I somehow had it in my hand. Then I noticed that Marek was joyful, reconciled with that tragedy... ‘he told me that he closed his matters, said good-bye to us and that his death did not terrify him. And he asked me not to despair since it was hard for him. When I talked to the people in the hospice I learnt that those who were dying with pain asked people to be with them, to touch them gently, to smile warmly. And one should say that they love them since love is the only thing we can offer. And we will regret one thing, namely that we did not express what we felt. Some nun whom I knew told us that we would cry after the funeral for 100 days and that was good and needed, and even recommended. We would wear black clothes as a sign of mourning. Then she would let me feel sorrow, angry. She would let me despair for a year and let me ignore the life around me. But after that period I would raise my head up and would return to the land of the living. Then I looked at her with crying eyes, in disbelief and anger. She was right although it lasted more than a year until ‘lament disappeared and heaven opened’ as someone wrote.
Sebastian remembers some picture from his childhood, when his grandfather was passing away. ‘We all were around him as it used to be earlier: family, friends, and neighbours. There were candles, a lot of prayers, closed windows and covered mirrors. And when my grandpa died my grandmother began crying terribly. It was not a cry but some howl. They were together for 50 years. At that moment my grandmother’s brother commanded, ‘let someone take her out and give her something so that she can calm down.’ I thought that no drug would stop that pain; that one had to suffer. But our culture favours tough people. We keep repeating to those who go crazy with grief. ‘Pull yourself together, you must be tough, do not show your weakness... They themselves get shut in their shells since they had to survive. I heard them saying a hundred times that they were left with their pain. But mourning is necessary to return to life. There is no other way. The modern psychologists’ methods are good for nothing. When you pray in Masses offered for the dead you will feel relief. Those who experienced inner comfort will confirm that. I think that religious people are in a better situation because they believe in Lord God.

"Niedziela" 44/2007

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: