7 min read

To Reach Toward Infinity

Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break - William Shakespeare

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Humans are aware of their own transience, of the fleeting moments loosely bound together that make a life; for millennia we've been wanting to be remembered, make a mark on the world, to tell the universe that 'I was here, and I mattered'.

Dying is an unavoidable fact of life, and as such, behaviour related to the idea of The After permeates all aspects of our cultural, spiritual, and personal philosophies; the ways in which we approach grief, loss, and mourning transcend history and time, tracing their foundations back to faint ghosts of long forgotten ancestors. In order to confront the fact that we genuinely do die, humankind has developed a language of 'symbolism of continuity' - that is, imaginative and representative forms of transcending death, often in narrative form.

Humans are nothing if not tellers of stories at their core.

Language itself in particular helps us to rationalise and re-conceptualise death, loss, and grief, occupying a healing role and giving voice to a deeply human experience.

The struggle to contain our emotions by rational means is as old as the oldest of human documents - Gilgamesh raged against the loss of Enkidu 4,000 years ago in the world's oldest surviving literary work, and the Book of the Dead was Ancient Egyptians way of memorialising and rationalising death and loss through rigorous ceremony.

It's in this use of language that we find a collective catharsis. By sharing tales of the deceased, reciting their accomplishments, and giving shape to our pain with words, we get a moment's grace from our grief. This isn't to negate the pain, but acknowledge it exists, and it hurts, and we feel it, and to wrestle back some of the control it holds over us.

As Shakespeare says, we should not let sorrow silence us but instead allow it to become a part of our story.

As society changes and grows, our stories of remembrance change and grow with us. Memorials may now take digital forms; social media platforms become spaces for collective mourning and remembering. But the essence remains unchanged - the expression of loss, the affirmation of life, and the celebration that we were here at all.

Dealing With Grief

When you experience loss, the grief that follows is deeply personal yet universally understood. It's natural to feel a range of feelings—from sadness and anger to relief and bewilderment. Embracing these feelings fully and exploring them without judgement is a key part of experiencing grief and the healing process.

Grief reshapes our lives. While there is no correct way to grieve, and no way to rush through the process, there is peace to be found in knowing you're not isolated in sorrow. Acknowledging that you're feeling grief, and honouring that, can help you on your way past the present hurt into the contemplative future.

Strategies to help deal with grief:

Embracing Your Emotions: Feel your feelings. Crying, laughing, and recalling memories are all part of the mourning process.

Lean on Others: Sharing your grief with friends, family, or a support group can provide support and remind you that you're not alone in this experience.

Develop a Ritual: Personal rituals, whether lighting a candle or visiting a memorial or special place, can offer a sense of comfort and stability.

Give Yourself Time: Grief moves on its own timeline. Accept the good days when they're here and the tough ones when they come; give yourself the grace of time.

Grief Touches Us All

How We Mourn

We can trace the idea of a eulogy back to Ancient Greece, and the term eulogia, meaning ‘good word or praise’. These weren’t limited to funerals; a eulogia was a common occurrence at events and celebrations, and used as a type of public recognition and appreciation. The use of a eulogy as part of funeral rites was popularised by the Ancient Romans, and has filtered into the Western canon and society from there.

Over 7,000 years ago, the people of Ancient Mesopotamia buried their dead; they believed in an afterlife, and burial customs developed to allow the soul of the deceased easier access to the Land of the Dead.

Today, funeral customs are as unique and varied as the cultures they originate from, with societal, spiritual, and personal philosophies reflected in each unique ceremony.

Collective Grief: Public Memorials

The ANZAC Memorial, Sydney

Monuments to the memory of those who’ve passed on are scattered throughout human history, many of which are dedicated to those who lost their lives during warfare; memorials are a physical manifestation of our collective grief, a way to process our shared emotion in a permanent and public way.

The ANZAC Memorial in Sydney was intended to be a memorial to all Australians who lost their lives in service during the First World War, but it’s the sculptures inside that are the biggest testament to mourning and remembrance.

Sacrifice, by artist George Raynor Hoff, depicts a deceased soldier borne aloft by three women - mother, sister, wife and child - in a statement about the stark realities of war and the victims in the wake of it; it is Loss and Mourning made physical, the taking of the intangible and forcing us to look at what is held up in front of us, to confront it, to internalise it, and to carry it with us always - much life grief.

Sacrifice sits in the Hall of Silence, "so that all who enter the Hall of Memory must gaze down upon it, thereby making physical and mental acknowledgement of the spirit which it symbolises...".

Reflections on Life, Loss, and Loving Well

Personal Experiences of Grief

My nana had wrinkled hands; that’s just the way the world works, I think. One day you’re climbing in between sheets warmed by your grandparent’s bodies, jug already boiling for tea- and the next your nana has wrinkled hands.

There was a lolly jar in Old Pop’s cupboard, hidden in between lavender bags and band shirts; it was an Olympic medal worthy moment when you managed to sneak in there without him catching you (even though he always, always knew).

There was no space left on the walls, because Nana had covered them all in thousands of words- pictures, of course, each one telling a novel length story- and there was nothing she enjoyed more than talking about each main character, eyes sparkling and wrinkled hands fluttering as she waltzed down memory lane.

There was a clock on the wall, and it would tick in a way that made me imagine it could climb off the wall and march circles through the house, like if Cogsworth was a prison guard.

The shadows the trees would cast through the windows never helped- I was an imaginative child.

The door always slammed, which was never a problem; my nana loved to know people were coming and going. I would always try to catch it, worried one of the frames of stories on the wall would one day fall, and shatter my nana’s heart.

My happiest memory isn't really a single moment, but rather a feeling, a wish, a nostalgia for a time long gone. It's the intangibility of wild plum jam on the stove, of a fireplace crackling in the corner on a cold winter's night. It's frozen yoghurt and old fashioned milkshakes and late night snacks underneath warm crocheted blankets.

It's the sound of a creaking fold out couch as I grew up, of the television and me alone while the soft snores of age wind through the house, of the splinters in my fingers topping up the fire.

My happiest memory is also my most bittersweet- that my nana had wrinkled hands.

Where to Find Grief Support in Australia

Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement


Lifeline Australia

Beyond Blue

Services Australia

Further Reading: Grief, Bereavement, and Loss

What are the 5 stages of grief?

Death and Funeral Notices

Meaningful Memorials: Ideas for Celebrating a Life Well-Lived

Your Guide to Planning a Memorial Ceremony

Last updated 28th May 2024
Laura Barling
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