Blessed Mourning

What is so blessed about mourning? Of all the beatitudes, "Blessed are they who mourn" seems most baffling. In some translations, "Blessed" is rendered "Happy." How can we mourn and be happy at the same time?

Mourning has fallen out of fashion. Time was when strict norms dictated mourning customs. Black was the only proper color for mourning a spouse or parent, and not just for the funeral. Dressing all in black for anything less than six months was considered scandalous and disrespectful. After that, one could "break mourning" with a touch of white, gradually working up to somber gray.

People did not attend social functions or go to movies while in deep mourning. They resisted pretending things were normal as the realization set in that their definition of normal had changed forever.

Such practices served a practical purpose. They shielded mourners from the demands of daily interactions and distractions, thus giving their hearts and minds sufficient time to heal. Nowadays, in the rush to get back to "life as usual," much has been lost : not the least of which is our mental health.

People may try to comfort children at the death of a pet by quickly replacing it with another one. Denied a chance to grieve, the child is deprived the opportunity to grow. He/she learns the erroneous lesson that pain of loss is an inconvenience to be avoided and, worse, that pets, things and even people are interchangeable. Such dismissals do not in fact rejuvenate life but slowly, almost imperceptibly, deaden it.

More things than death need grieving. A failed marriage, a lost job, an unsuccessful college application all demand we admit some doors have closed forever. When we take time to mourn the inevitable loss of youth, health and even our dreams, we honor them. This honoring allows us to let them go and let us move on. The cross compels us to become fully alive not by avoiding pain and loss but by passing through them.

During November we remember those who have died. We bless the emptiness created by their passing. Toward the end of the month we gather to give thanks not just for what we have but for what we once had and is now gone forever. In allowing ourselves a time to mourn, we expand our capacity to love and live. In so doing, we become truly blessed and happy.

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