Some years ago, I was at a meeting of the Sydney Richmond AFL Supporters' Group. It was a loyal and selective bunch and a guest was the club’s community and players’ liaison officer, Dale Weightman, a former premiership player. At the break, he turned to me, sitting in a front seat and looking terribly keen, and asked me what I did for work. With some reluctance, I told him I was a bereavement counsellor with a funeral company.
Instead of the usual shuffle and platitudes that I often receive in answer to this question, Dale commented: 'That would be an interesting job. In fact, we could use you, at the end of the season, when we have to tell some young fellows that they were being de-listed. There’s a lot of grief around then.'
What do we do with all that grief? It has become fashionable to accept the public tears of disappointment from the former Australian cricket captain Kim Hughes, through to our most recent former Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd. But, there is also a certain superiority or embarrassment. 'Oh, get over it!' Or, words to that effect.
Look at the real tragedies of life, the sadness upon sadness of deaths and injury on the global scale and in the lives of people we know. What’s a Grand Final draw or a loss of status compared to that? But the tears remain.
I was talking with a family recently about the death of their mother and grandmother. There were tears as they talked and told stories, as well as smiles and affection. Thinking about the old (ninety year old) lady’s funeral, I reflected on the meaning of this event for her children and grandchildren.
Could I say to them that their love for this woman and the sadness at her dying were part of her legacy. Forget the will. This love and sadness were taking them into places in their hearts they had not been before. Memories of their mother and grandmother’s compassion, impatience, golf games, generosity, quirkiness . . . person were tunnelling into their being. There was a real chance that there would be more room in their lives, in their sympathies in their understanding because they had known grief. Or, not.
Of course, I did not say this to the family. But I thought it and I believed it. Grief has that potential. It doesn’t always work this miracle but it is only grief that can do this for us.
There is something about loss that can diminish and enrich at the same time. I don’t know about my football official’s life, but his compassion for his charges was a sign of something.
Those young hopefuls who retuned to the pack, those champion who gave their all, those leaders who fell on their own or other people’s swords, suffered a loss, however we might value or assess them. It is happening all the time. Leaves at Autumn, friends at trains, good-byes galore and those ideas and hopes wrenched from our clutching hands, with frustration and tears.
Lacrimae rerum – the tearfulness of things – was how the Latins used to put it. Maybe, just maybe, that tearfulness, wherever and for whomsoever, may help us become a little more tolerant, a little more compassionate, a little more human. At least that is my hope.
Richard White is bereavement counsellor at W.N. Bull Funeral Directors in Sydney.
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