Monday, July 28, 2008

Remembering the Dead: Thoughts from Kierkegaard

"In relationship to one dead you have criterion whereby you can test yourself... it is one's duty to love [those] we do not see...we cannot be set aside because death separates them from us, for duty is eternal."

Søren Kierkegaard

I spent today reading Kierkegaard's "Works of Love". Specifically, a piece called 'the work of love in remembering one dead' whereby he asserts that actively remembering our dead is an act of duty that epitomizes the most unselfish, freest, and most faithful love. Perhaps, it brought me so easily to tears because it is that time of year when my heart, like brittle blown glass, is more fragile than robust. Or, perhaps, it resonated because his words offered marrow to my own philosophy and dutiful practice.

Kierkegaard asserts that the work of love in remembering one who is dead is a work of the most unselfish love. It is unrequited, for the dead can never reciprocate:

"O, if one were accustomed to truly love unselfishly, one would certainly remember the dead differently from the way one usually does after the first period, frequently rather than brief, in which one loves the dead inordinately enough with cries and clamour."

And the work of love in remembering the dead is a work of the freest love. There is no coercion nor compulsion to continue loving the dead. It is an act of authenticity and freewill, not an act of demand or obligation. To remember one dead is intentional and quite different than simply not forgetting soon after the death. It withstands the test of time:

"With respect to one dead... nothing is coercive at all. On the other hand, the loving memory of one dead has to protect itself against...new impressions to expel the memory, and it has to protect itself against time...Time has a dangerous power; in time is is so easy to make a beginning again and thereby to forget...In the meantime, the multiplicity of life's demands beckons to one, the living beckon to one and say: come to us, we will take care of you. One who is dead, however, cannot beckon."

Finally, the work of love in remembering the dead is a work of the most faithful love. It requires unwavering and enduring devotion, for neither affection, nor love, nor strength, nor kindness can be returned from one who is dead. Our dead do nothing to hold on to us; still, in remembering our dead, we love disinterestedly, freely, and faithfully. We hold a place in our lives for their psychological presence. This work of love in remembering the dead is faithful because our dead cannot compel steadfastness of our covenant to remember- the one we made at the moment of death when we vow emphatically, "I will never forget.". Rather, our dead remain passive and unchanged, unable to hold us accountable for fulfilling our promise to remember:

"Little by little, as the dead crumbles away, the memory crumbles away between the fingers and one does not know what becomes of it...if love still abides, it is most faithful."

As I finished reading this piece, tears filled my eyes. I felt vindicated in some small way, as if the world who had so long misunderstood my seemingly strange, unceasing allegiance to my dead child was woefully misguided in its assumptions. The love I hold for her in my heart and the space I allow for her in my life is an act of unselfishness, freewill, and faithfulness. This sounds much more palatable than psychopathologizing the bereaved who choose to remember their dead. And in so doing, I have been better able to learn, grow, endure, and mostly to love all those around me:

"If you love one dead, then remember him lovingly, and learn from him, precisely as one who is dead; learn the kindness of thought, the definiteness in expression, the strength in unchangeableness, the pride in life which you would not be able to learn as well from any human being, even the most highly gifted...Remember one dead and learn in just this way to love the living disinterestedly, freely, faithfully... Remember one who is dead, and in addition to the blessing which is inseparable from this work of love, you will also have the best guidance to understanding life; that it is one's duty to love the men we do not see, but also those we do see."








4 comments:

A.M. Gwynn said...

......"and it has to protect itself against time...Time has a dangerous power; in time is is so easy to make a beginning again and thereby to forget...In the meantime, the multiplicity of life's demands beckons to one, the living beckon to one and say: come to us, we will take care of you. One who is dead, however, cannot beckon."


That resonates with me in a big way.

I am selfish in my time of remembering him, as if the outside world and the people in it will steal him from me. Still loving him as if he were here, is misunderstood and judged by everyone... "Oh, haven't you realized it's time to get on with your life?"
Getting on with my life is only possible in my still loving him. Still missing him. Trying to find the place where our love can still exist unmarred and unhurried by the outside world. This new way of loving a child you can't touch, see or experience.
This is why, the way you remember Cheyenne is such a teaching experience to others. It is in so many ways a guide. And it is a declaration to the world...death does not conquer love. And that is the way it is meant to be.

Thanks for this post.

Dr. Joanne Cacciatore said...

Angie-
When I was reading his work, I actually thought of you and the way you love and hold Dallas in your life. I knew it would resound honestly with you.

Thank you so much for commenting!

Asha said...

This was really beautiful. I loved reading this.
I am currently trying to understand love in a deeper way. This helps. Blessings, dear one , and thank you.

R said...

This was really beautiful. Thanks for sharing that.

Rhonda
Casey's mom

Becoming...

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The soul still sings in the darkness telling of the beauty she found there; and daring us not to think that because she passed through such tortures of anguish, doubt, dread, and horror, as has been said, she ran any the more danger of being lost in the night. Nay, in the darkness did she, rather, find herself.

--St. John, Dark Night of the Soul


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