I realize this is sort of an odd topic for a blog that mostly focuses on writing and publishing, but I figure that since I wrote a book about ghosts and cemeteries and stuff, this also has it’s place here.
Last week, I was hanging out with a group of friends I see every week. Somehow, we got on the topic of loss and grieving. Depressing, I know, but we’ve all lost love ones, some of us more recently than others, and it just came up.
Unless you’re a sociopath, chances are you’ve mourned the loss of someone at least once in your life, be it a pet, a grandparent, a friend. Losing someone is awful and it’s painful. Sometimes, it shakes you up so much that you have a hard time figuring out how to go on now that that person or pet is gone. In such circumstances, grieving is only natural. According to a few of my friends, however, it is also selfish.
Now, I’ve mourned the loss of three grandparents, several cats, a bird, a fish, a killer whale, and even my mom’s best friend. But I’ve never thought of mourning someone as selfish. To me, it always seemed like the least selfish thing in the world. I mean, no one likes to grieve. It’s no fun at all to feel your heart break every time you think about your loss.
My friends’ reasoning, however, is that when you grieve, you’re crying because you’re sad for yourself. You’re sad that you’re never going to see that person (in life) again when really, you should be glad that they’re not in pain or suffering anymore. I get that. I remember when my oldest cat, Basil, passed away, I was so relieved that she wasn’t in pain anymore. That doesn’t mean that it didn’t break my heart to not have her with me anymore.
If you ask me (and technically, no one did, but I’m going to tell you anyway), grieving for someone is not selfish. In fact, it’s the opposite of selfish. Grieving means you loved someone enough to miss them when they are gone. As humans, yes, we are selfish by nature, but I think the fact that we are capable of feeling loss proves how unselfish we actually are. If we were truly selfish, we’d be thinking, “Oh, good. One less person breathing my air and taking up all the good parking spaces.” To be able to love someone so much that it hurts when they’ve gone is extraordinary. It’s not selfish at all. Heck, I’d be really mad if I died and no one mourned me. I’d come back to haunt them!
Furthermore, how is it selfish when dogs grieve for their owners? I’ve read stories of dogs who spend the rest of their lives at the graves of their masters. Those dogs are incapable of selfishness. Or what about 9/11? I didn’t know anyone who died in those towers. My life shouldn’t have been altered in the slightest. Yet my entire class cried for those lost in the World Trade Center and at the Pentagon and in the field. I still cry for those families. I cry for animals that don’t have homes, or who have been abandoned, or who have died because they were mistreated or neglected. Heck, I’ve cried for fictional characters in books and movies more times than I can count: Rue from The Hunger Games, Jack from Titanic, every single one of my favorite characters from Harry Potter. That might make me a little crazy, but I hope it doesn’t make me selfish.
I don’t think it does. I think it makes me… I don’t know. I can’t even say “human,” because humans are not the only animals who grieve. I think it means that we are all capable of love and compassion. I also think it means that there is more to life, and death, than any of us will ever know.