“O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall frightened, sheer, no-man fathomed.” (G.M. Hopkins)
There was a recent (not quite so recent! Recent in 1980…..) headline in the local newspapers about a young girl who had been diagnosed as suffering from a form of cancer. She was not expected to recover. The parents in their anguish were appealing for funds towards a body scanner. Faced with the awful reality of premature death, there was a desperate attempt to mitigate that reality – to achieve some positive benefit from the loss of the child. It is a story that could be repeated a hundred times.
This human struggle between achievement – some sort of measurable positive contributions – and despair in the face of the finality and destructive force of death, has been an important theme in the development of the bereavement project. Two of our first volunteers expressed this struggle for me. One was a young woman, highly active, socially and politically committed, and working in one of the poorer areas of the city. She seemed to represent the sense of success, the confident expectation of a future in which she would play an active part, and the fight necessary for achievement. Her own bereavement seemed almost a springboard for more energetic creative action. Another volunteer was the widow of a man who had recently retired. The bereavement had been a cruel blow, snatching away a hope for shared leisure time. The volunteer often felt there was nothing left in life for her, and that she would merely await her own end in grief and loneliness. Her children had their own life and seemed to have left her behind, unable to listen to her despair and desolation. The volunteers themselves felt each other to be opposites, in tension with each other, impatient and awed.