When we love someone and they die, it can feel devastating. This seems to be a universal part of our human experience. But why do we have to suffer like this?
If we humans lived our lives separately from others, needing and relying on no one but ourselves, then the loss or death of another would have little impact. But we are social creatures. Compared to other animals, we spend a remarkably long period of our lives—18 or more years—living with and depending on our parents. We are born into families. We grow and live surrounded and supported by our social environment. We make friends with, go to school with and work with our neighbors. It is part of our makeup to form strong bonds of caring and affection with other people. The forces that draw us to others are so deeply entwined in our nature. We respond to these forces in powerful and seemingly involuntary ways. We feel these pressures keenly when we are lonely and bereft of companionship; when we feel ashamed and fear social disapproval; and especially when we fall in love and long for the love of another person.
At their best, these deeply rooted feelings encourage us to help and protect each other. The resulting bonds bring us help when we need it. It is precisely these feelings that have made our incredibly rich, complex human culture possible. Without it we would be spending our lives trying furtively to gather and hunt enough food to keep ourselves alive from one day to the next. We would have neither the reason nor the ability to pass on what we have learned to others. If we were hurt, we would have only the wisdom of our bodies to heal us.
But we are not solitary, and the price we pay for our attachments is vulnerability—the risk of loss. Because we depend on other people—because they do matter to us—they occupy a special place in our hearts. They are like a part of ourselves and cannot be replaced…any more than our hand or some fond memories could be. When someone we love is gone from our lives, it is as if a piece of us has been torn away. The loss rends the fabric of our lives and the wound must be repaired. Grief is that process by which our minds heal this hurt. For us to go on with our lives and again risk caring about others, we need to let go of those we love who are no longer with us. Through this process of mourning, we gradually accept the loss. We allow the dead to be gone from our lives.
At the end of mourning, there is still sadness, but it is a wistful sadness that is tempered by the happy memories that we still possess.