Why Hope Is The Last To Leave Pandora’s Box

‘Give Sorrow Words . . .


“Give Sorrow Words, the Grief that does not speak knits up the o’er wrought heart and bids it break”

William Shakespeare

“We have a saying among those who work in the world of bereavement; “The longer the driveway – the shorter the funeral.”  What do we mean by this?  There is a growing trend in America, starting with the upper socioeconomic classes and filtering down to the less wealthy – funeral services are becoming unpopular.  Take the case of Mary Martin, the actress who played Peter Pan in the film by the same name.  After her death, her wealthy family decided not to have a funeral, and in fact, nobody came to pick up her ashes at the mortuary.  Another form of this trend is not to call it a funeral but rather a “celebration” of the person’s life.

I think that this trend is well intended because we are trying to ease the suffering of those who mourn at a funeral.  But we must be careful about unknowingly robbing the bereaved of the public support we give them by recognizing and validating their grief.  When I make this point, people often remind me of the Irish.  They say that we should be more like them and have a party.  But what is little known is that the wake, or a party as we Americans describe it, is done after a two-day vigil of sitting with the deceased’s body.  After that, it is indeed time to have a party.  More importantly, the Irish sit with their grief.  They make no excuses for it.

Not to give sorrow words is to diminish our loss and to give the implicit message that those who are mourning are not able to suffer hearing what it means to lose someone dear.  To give sorrow words means that it is not so terrible that we cannot give it a name.  By naming it, we are able to get a bit of distance from it and look at it.  This is how we humans heal; we are able to get a perspective and decide what it means to us.  Most importantly, by acknowledging that we can stay with our pain, we are attesting to the indomitability of our human spirits.  Alice Miller, a writer, said it best “For the human spirit is virtually indestructible, and its ability to rise from the ashes remains as long as the body draws breath.”

I do believe there is a time to celebrate a person’s life as well as the mourning of his or her death.  However, if we focus only on celebrating the person’s life, are we unknowingly excluding the necessary mourning that needs to be worked through so we can eventually come to some sort of acceptance of our loss?  Without understanding our pain it becomes senseless suffering.   When someone we love dies it causes many assumptions we have made to come into question.  The fabric of security we have woven into our lives may feel torn.  We can have thoughts and feelings that cause distress.  Yet these same thoughts and feelings invite us to see who we are because they can tell us a great deal about ourselves.

This is what the Greek myth of Pandora’s Box is illustrating.  Like Pandora when she opened the box, when we look inside ourselves, we can unleash some things we dread, but we can also free the sustaining virtue of Hope. It is interesting that Hope, what the Greeks described as “a brightly winged creature,” is in the same box with the other creatures that come flying out – War, Illness, Pestilence, and many other painful experiences.  Hope is the last to leave the box and is often left out of the story.  And what gets ignored is a most important message  – Hope is the last to come out because she cannot be freed until we have looked beneath our pain.  Hope invites us on a journey that is both feared and desired.  It is the journey of self-discovery.  It is feared because such a journey means realizing the way we have assumed the world and ourselves to be is not holding up.  It is desired because it promises a more fully human life, a life that extends and deepens what it means to be you”.

Penn Barbosa

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