To Mourn a Loved One is to Mourn the World
How losing my father led me to reconnect with the world.
Featured in French magazine Yggdrasil (n°1, June 2019), dedicated to civilizational collapse and rebirth, co-created by Pablo Servigne and Yvan Saint-Jours • Photos : © Mai Anne Bénédic. Île de Ré, France, 18.08.18 • French: “Deuil intime, deuil du monde”
Some days remain forever.
August 18th 2018 is one of those days.
I had recently discovered collapsology — the transdisciplinary systemic study of civilization collapse and what follows. My mind was finally cracked open to a reality I had long sensed, yet never dared to look in the eye. The idea that our civilization has in fact started collapsing had clawed its way into my consciousness. My paradigm over existence — past, present, future — was uprooted entirely.
I felt the warm golden sand under the soles of my tired feet. It was a beautiful day. Children were playing nearby, blissfully oblivious to it all.
On this beautiful day, I knew I would never be the same.
Inside of me, a silent, steadily expanding chaos. Everywhere around me, beauty.
I felt stunned, and clearsighted.
Out-of-body, and connected.
Burdened, and liberated.
I was able to appreciate whatever my eyes encountered with renewed curiosity and tenderness — the seagulls floating along the waves, the bright green algae softly dancing, and down to the most insignificant rock. At the same time, in this magnified presence, I was able to visualize the undoing of each thing.
I wondered how much longer this regal spectacle — for all of its commonness — would be around for us to witness. And what our children’s world might one day look like.
My mind was clearer than ever, because I felt everything around me as if for the first and last time.
I want to remember this mixed feeling of glimmer and sorrow. For I believe in two things. Number one, beauty and meaning are what keeps us going. As symbolic animals and as a community. Number two, letting go is needed in order to build the new.
I believe in responding to suffering with beauty and love.
Grief calls grief
October 11th 2018. Another collapse.
After 18 months of relentless, shared struggle and several days of induced coma, I was losing my father to neurodegenerative syndrome ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s or Charcot’s disease).
ALS has been rated the most cruel affliction by the World Health Organization. Yet, it is so rare that many of you have likely never heard of it, or merely have a faint idea of what it resembles. In France, about 0.002% of the population is struck with ALS. The most renowned neurologists stand powerless in its face. No causes known so far. No cure. No control whatsoever over spreading, nor pace.
Full unknown territory at a stuttering research stage.
The feelings of loss and bereavement rushing through me — which had been trickling down since the diagnosis — echoed the grief I was experiencing towards our entire civilization collapsing. My father’s terrifying disease, I realized, had opened me to mourning the world at large.
Because that is what my father was to me: the whole world.
Over the past months, as every part of him (movement, speech, eating, breathing…) had been removed one after the other leaving us utterly powerless, a little piece of land had dissolved.
There was no going around it: all hope for betterment —let alone recovery— was to be relinquished. Which meant there was no time left for denial, nor avoidment.
As wishful thinking was swept off the table,
so was the option of wasting life.
Beyond loss: unveiling strength and beauty
As my world was being torn to pieces, I had been blessed with a new pair of eyes. Slowly losing my father had enabled me to acknowledge the world crumbling down. Leading me to reconnect with it, and myself, on a deeper level.
Whatever was taken for granted became a miracle. Whatever dreams had been sidelined, pressing priorities. Every beautiful thing that was or could be became worth living and fighting for — a reason to push forward. I no longer needed for things to crash before my eyes in order to appreciate both their value and frailty in the now.
As sublimely voiced by Henri Lacordaire:
“ There are some things that can only be seen through eyes that have cried.”
Some hurts you probably never fully recover from. And sometimes it takes less than losing a loved one to feel like your world is falling apart. The question is not whether you recover entirely. And perhaps that is not even what you should be seeking, for that would mean negating the past — and with it, the person you have grown into. What matters most is whether you keep fighting. Giving it all, as if you had nothing to lose. Chasing the light, working your way through the chaos, while cherishing whatever you do have now.
However dark the road, there is always a sunny alley to be found – around the corner, across the globe, or through the infinity of our minds.
To be resilient is to create
Resilience is everywhere —inside you, me, and every being able to hurt, live and grow all the same. At one point or another forced to adapt and transform in the face of adversity, whatever that may be or the extent of trauma.
Perhaps this scarred, updated version of us might be able to uncover what our old selves failed to. Creating the life we were meant to live. Seeking out people and purposes which make us whole. Committing to showing up in a way that best uses our talents. With some luck, adding value to the world.
So when it feels like the ground is breaking up, let us breathe through it. Let us try to meet it with grace and courage. Inhaling and exhaling a little more love. Holding onto each other a little tighter.
It takes huge upheavals for lands to slide,
Paradigms to shift, and strengths to surface.
As life carves into our mind-body, leaving us momentarily crippled and clueless, we can choose to regard our scars (and faults) with tenderness and acceptance. Only on such condition may we process, heal and rebuild. Individually, and together.
Resilience relies on our creativity and capacity to project. Instead of backing down with resignation in facing what is, it dares to dream of what could be. It sees the missing parts — those that have yet to be brought into being. Hopefully, may we then be mad enough to go after our visions, share them, expand them.
Push through the pain. Let it sink into your skin.
And when all is undone, acknowledge what you have got to offer.
The world needs us as much as we need it. It needs for you and I to come alive, rebelliously caring as the light fades, shouting our lungs out into that deafening night. Together determined to defeat pain and death with joy, art, and love.
Let us sit for a moment with those words by Dylan Thomas:
“Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
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