June 03, 2005


"You have to dig deep to bury a father."

That's a proverb attributed to Gypsies that Neil Chethik chose as the epigraph for his book "FatherLoss." According to Freud, becoming fatherless is "the most poignant loss." It was one of the reasons Michael Jordan quit pro basketball in 1993. Chethik, a writer from Lexington, Ky., explores the depth of that loss for sons of all stripes. A worthwhile father/son loss book, it is but one of many that try to tackle the tough task of explaining what it is to grieve.

A relevant article in American Scholar called Work of Mourning describes several 'works of mourning' of our day -- evaluating how authors are trying to -- and whether or not they are succeeding at -- wrapping words around feelings of utter devastation, as well as the author's own experience.
What happens if the work of mourning does not proceed on this detailed and stately course, if the enormous energy available for the labor of grief does not find its proper tools or associations? It can become what Freud calls "pathological mourning." Like those spirits of the dead in Greek literature who, if improperly mourned, return to cause malevolent mischief--devastating crops, destroying whole towns--the psychic energies of mourning, if repressed, can wreak grievous harm. They can turn inward into a dangerous process of self-devouring (as when we "eat our hearts out"). They can metamorphose into what we now call depression, a condition for which Freud preferred the more resonant, tradition-laden term melancholia. And, most tragically, they can give rise to self-hatred and self-destruction. "The patient represents his ego to us as worthless, incapable of any achievement and morally despicable, he reproaches himself, vilifies himself and expects to be cast out and punished.... This ... delusion of mainly moral inferiority is completed by sleeplessness and refusal to take nourishment, and ... by an overcoming of the instinct which compels every living thing to cling to life."

Dag. How come CBO's links look so nice and neat?