The word “need” too often is used as a synonym for “want,” as in, “I need a hug,” or “I need a drink.”
I may need oxygen, but I don’t need a hug. I may need a blood transfusion, but I don’t need a drink, at least, not a drink of alcohol.
It happens, however, that we are ruled by language, so we tend to believe the synonyms literally are true. So, for instance, when a loved one dies, you may proclaim, “I needed her,” when in fact, you merely wanted the feelings you had when she was with you.
My loved one didn’t “give” me those feelings. I created the feelings within my own mind and body. The feelings were mine, not hers. She gave me a platform for them.
Way back in 1953, I met Phyllis, the woman who was to become my wife. I fell in love with her face at the proverbial first sight. (It probably wasn’t real love so soon, but it felt like love, and it soon turned into real love.)
Anyway, three years later we married and remained married and in love until she died this year. So, for 67 years I was smitten.
She was the finest human being I ever have known: She was both wise and intelligent, compassionate and loving, beautiful, and talented in so many different ways.
I often wondered how one person could be so gifted.
I loved her with all my heart and soul, and when she died, I experienced the worst pain of my life.
But I did not need her. That is, I did not burden her with the obligation to make me happy. I did not assume that her job was to provide my contentment. She only could be herself, and it was up to me to be happy with that.
My two daughters idolized my wife. Their personal maxim, when faced with an important, or even not so important, decision, is “What would Mother do?”
I too, follow that script to the degree that one of my grandsons made a medallion for me to wear. It contains my wife’s initials, and on the other side, the letters “W W M D.” What Would Mother Do?
We all respected, loved, and followed her advice, even to some degree worshipped her. But we did not need her.
The terrible sorrow we felt at her death was not for a loss of our personal needs, but rather the grief we felt for her loss, that she did not manage to live longer, though she tried so hard and wanted to so much.
Our sadness was sympathy for her struggle, not for our loss. Can you see the difference?
She desperately wanted to live longer. We were sad that she didn’t see her grandchildren marry. She didn’t see any great-grandchildren. She had so much life left to live and enjoy.
In short, it was good that we felt heartbreak for her, but let us not confuse that emotion with pity for ourselves.
For that is what “need” really means: Pity for ourselves.
My wife has been gone for nine months. My life has gone on. My daughters and I miss her terribly, but mostly we have continued as before.
Some things have changed, but not a great deal. There is a massive irony in the fact that because we no longer worry about her failing health, our total worries have lessened.
We loved her and miss her. But we didn’t need her in order for us to be happy. We have retained for ourselves, the right to continue living and to feel joy.
True story: I knew a girl who was in love with a boy. She knew him in high school, and for years they had planned to be married. They went through college together, and after graduation, when the girl thought they would marry, the boy dropped her and married another woman.
The girl was traumatized because she believed she needed the boy. Her hopes for a happy life had evaporated.
She was wrong.
She was a smart, healthy, attractive person, who could have continued her life without this man. Instead, she placed the responsibility for her happiness on his shoulders, and believed that because he left her, she never could be happy.
She fell into a funk from which she did not recover for many years — perhaps ever. She never married.
She did not understand that ultimately her job in life is the same as all our jobs: To create our own happiness. It was utterly wrong to lay that responsibility on someone else.
If she failed to create her happiness, that was her own error. It was not the boy’s fault.
He could not implant happiness into her brain. He could not “make“ her happy. The common phrase, “You make me happy” is incorrect.
You can be kind, gentle, thoughtful, sexual, generous, humorous, and helpful, but you cannot make someone happy.
So long as I am gifted with the ultimate blessing — life — I must assume responsibility for my life.
Considering the trillions of sperms and the billions of eggs, I already have won the life lottery. And with that victory comes a responsibility: To make my life good in my own view.
Others can take away some of the things I love. They can give me pain. They can cripple me. They can take my money and my possessions. They can disappoint me.
But when I was born, I was granted the special gift of life, along with the responsibility to safeguard it.
When my parents took me to Kiddieland, and I cried because I didn’t want to go home, did my parents ruin my life? No, I still had my life, my most precious possession, and the memory of Kiddieland, and the joy it brought me.
My life was not spoiled because I “needed” Kiddieland. I am in charge of my attitudes.
It is rare for anyone to need another person. Even a baby doesn’t need its mother. A baby needs care, but that care could come from another person or persons. The entire adoption process relies on that truth.
And this is the point. When faced with the loss of a loved one, no matter how emotionally devastated I may be, I have a choice: I can blame my grief on the other person’s leaving me, or I can choose to survive. I can choose happiness.
“Need is a selfish emotion.” My need is all about me. Need has nothing to do with love or compassion. My need is created within me and under my control.
My single most important need is to live. Without life, nothing else is possible. And no one can give me life. I have been given the most precious of all gifts for which I have paid nothing. I didn’t earn it. It simply was given to me.
Sometimes, when a person loses a loved one to death, they feel guilty about their emotions. They think, “What would people say of me if I laugh, now? Don’t I need to wait for three months, six months, a year, five years before I can feel and display happiness?”
So they mourn as some sort of false penance, though their mourning benefits no one.
All forms of public morning — wearing dark veils and black clothing, sackcloth and ashes — all are performance mourning, done strictly for the ego of the mourner. All are meant to announce, “Admire me for my strength and pity me for my loss.”
They are a waste of our most treasured asset: Our remaining time.
I was given life for only a limited number of years. I can try to make good use of those few years or bad use. I can try to be happy or I can allow myself to be sad. I can choose to live my life as I prefer or choose to live it as I think other people prefer.
No one can live my remaining few years for me. Only I can do that. So if I give away my three months (or six or sixty) to mourning, only because I believe that is expected of me, the fault is mine.
There is nothing I can do for my wife. No amount of my mourning will help her. My mourning only will waste my precious remaining days.
A mourner is not to be admired any more than a person who burns down their own house. Years of life are irreplaceable, and to waste them in performance mourning is arson.
If a woman’s husband dies, and a week later she is seen dancing at a party, and taking home a man with her, some might sneer, “He’s not even cold in his grave, and she’s out having a good time.”
Those people could not be more wrong. When a loved one dies, you have but one job: To resume your life and to create your happiness as soon as you can.
If you mourn, will the others give you back your wasted months or years? Will they return your lost happiness? Will they help the dearly departed?
You owe the others, nothing.
To some, this may sound cold. We all feel sad at the loss of a loved one. And yes, it is cold, just as reality is cold, and truth can be cold, and the waste of your limited years is cold.
Life is not easy. Considering the harshness of the universe, life is a miracle that must fight for existence every second, and even then, loss is inevitable. That is cold.
I treasure my memories of Phyllis, and I treasure my few remaining years like a once-wealthy, newly impoverished man treasures his few remaining dollars.
Rodger Malcolm Mitchell
Facebook: Rodger Malcolm Mitchell
THE SOLE PURPOSE OF GOVERNMENT IS TO IMPROVE AND PROTECT THE LIVES OF THE PEOPLE.
The most important problems in economics involve:
- Monetary Sovereignty describes money creation and destruction.
- Gap Psychology describes the common desire to distance oneself from those “below” in any socio-economic ranking, and to come nearer those “above.” The socio-economic distance is referred to as “The Gap.”
Wide Gaps negatively affect poverty, health and longevity, education, housing, law and crime, war, leadership, ownership, bigotry, supply and demand, taxation, GDP, international relations, scientific advancement, the environment, human motivation and well-being, and virtually every other issue in economics. Implementation of Monetary Sovereignty and The Ten Steps To Prosperity can grow the economy and narrow the Gaps:
Ten Steps To Prosperity:
- Eliminate FICA
- Federally funded Medicare — parts A, B & D, plus long-term care — for everyone
- Social Security for all
- Free education (including post-grad) for everyone
- Salary for attending school
- Eliminate federal taxes on business
- Increase the standard income tax deduction, annually.
- Tax the very rich (the “.1%”) more, with higher progressive tax rates on all forms of income.
- Federal ownership of all banks
- Increase federal spending on the myriad initiatives that benefit America’s 99.9%
The Ten Steps will grow the economy and narrow the income/wealth/power Gap between the rich and the rest.
8 thoughts on “How to recover from loss, and the unforgivable waste of performance mourning.”
Excellently stated…and true.
Spot on Rodger. I am lucky to have had this exact conversation with my wife about 15 years in to our marriage (we just celebrated our 40th). I’ve always believed that unless you take care of yourself first, and that includes your happiness, there is no way in hell you can care for or take care of others. Peace and love. ✌🏼❤️
“Met in 1953 and married three years later.” Where were you stationed in those years while pulling in $83.20 a month as an E-1? https://www.navycs.com/charts/1952-military-pay-chart.html The Fed says a dollar in 1953 had the equivalent value of $10.14 in 2021 https://www.minneapolisfed.org/about-us/monetary-policy/inflation-calculator
As for needs: What does his holiness the dearly great leader of West Virginiastan Senator Manchin need?
Manchin pretends to be some sort of “moderate.” He is, in fact, an extreme coal whore.
Thank you Rodger. A keeper for me.
What a wonderful tribute to your beloved.
May her memory be for a blessing.
I learned over 50 years ago that each person is solely responsible for what happens in their life and how they live it. How we handle the good and the bad rests with us, even the bad things caused by others. We choose how to process and react to those things.
Thank you for writing this.
Thank you, John, she was a most remarkable woman, who many loved, and who repeatedly tell me so. I had to work hard to keep that from pushing me down into a funk. I still have brief relapses, but I am able to live my life.
May you live long and prosper. 😉