Tuesday, June 01, 2021

The Laws of Grief

The First Law of Grief, conservation, is, at first glance, confounding
That while cathartic, the public expression of grief favors forgetting
This is the quantity theory of grief that the ancients have observed
Namely, that it is in the nature of grief that it is preserved

A fundamental property of the substance is internal displacement
An external observer disturbs the soul, preventing reliable measurement
The observer effect is ineffable, never judge the outward appearance
Nay, the solitude of private grief destroys society's moral balance

That pain, unacknowledged, is a burden cannot be denied
Social beasts, the inside might not be as strong as the outside
Sometimes extreme measures are called for,
   even extraordinary rendition
It is only in retrospect that the workings of grief achieve recognition

The Second Law of Grief, irreversibility, is much disputed
For the texture of grief is intangible and cannot be computed
Most social sciences assume agency,
   hence the notion is frequently challenged
Practitioners believe in the efficacy of solace,
   thinking that it can be managed

It's an article of faith in all religions that the cure is consolation
Memorials and laughter are often proffered as emotional vaccination
The counselor's handy prescription for the spirit's rhythm of loss
Assuages the survivor's misgivings, yet we all one day will pay the cost

Some advanced the notion of stages,
Finite, and with an eventual equilibrium
These stages were posited as stepping stones,
Or rest stops, on the pathway to resolution

There were many doctrinal disputes about the magic number
Conclaves and conferences were held, more than I can remember
Was it the five heartbeats or, rather, the seven steps to heaven?
Out of the tower of Babel, came a dozen steps of mourning

Expedience and practicality reared its head contra the theorists
There's no pride of place to be the chief mourner in the funeral notice
Regret is everything, only belatedly can you enjoin in the communal numbness
Weary sons and daughters left wounded at the loved one's erasure, and the absence

Unlike thermodynamics, the Third Law of Grief concerns sorrow
The essential conceit is that no one is promised tomorrow
It is an inverse, this constant, and, rather than absolute zero,
The arc of grief, experiments confirm, instead approaches a plateau

The formal statement posits an upper bound, renewed anew
The paradox is that this physical limit is unapproachable
Whatever the perspective,
   whether raised heights or depths unfathomable,
You may think that you are done, but grief is never done with you

Applied grief, in practice, presents a serious dilemma
The theory holds that there are ways to move on and recover
Military training courses may try to inure their recruits from future trauma
But stress has a thousand fathers,
   while grief bears the affliction of a single mother

Unlike shame, for which some cultures have herd immunity,
There is no cure as yet, there is no remission for grief
Highly contagious, it's a social disease that simply cannot be prevented,
The only treatment is time, a balm with only minor palliative relief

The late discovery of the calculus of grief was a sorry chapter
Contra the skeptic's credo, its proponents got caught up in the rapture
The assumption of the golden rule
   has been that for every act of emotional kindness
Society will repay the bearer in full,
   and with no small amount of additional interest

Ivory tower professors, however, got into the mix,
   and designed a commodity market
But the flaw in the trading strategy's conception
   should have been readily apparent
Recall the First Law, markets can remain irrational
   longer than you can stay solvent

The Apocrypha suggest a Fourth Law of Grief which I'll briefly explore
Malcontents required an additional dimension,
   and preferred the Rule of Four

If you probe deeply, these quantum theories, simply stated, are plainly mislabeled
The putative reason is that grief's insubstantiality
   is the source of much frustration
Like its cousin, nostalgia, grief can be a fatal affliction
When in the throes of it, patients are frequently disabled

The impairment presents as a nervous condition,
   as they say, observers are worried
Yet the demands of capital mean that the working reality is barely acknowledged
In most companies, the nature of the loss
   is judged by the closeness of connection
Always check the fine print of the bereavement policy lest you suffer a resource action

All houses are grief houses, it all depends on one's time frame
The long view of humanity, let alone biology, enforces this hard rule
The tale of the lost stories, we're all marks in a shell game
The hard knocks will come surely,
   some learned the lesson early in school

In the world of the bereaved, the ritual is king
The comforting routines that are shared with kith and kin
A facade of normalcy is said to protect a house of pain
Guilt leads the way, but grief always leaves a residue of shame

Social interplay imposes complexity, we were left to understand
Previous certainties dissolved, like everything, they were written in sand
Our freedom is ephemeral, and this is the chief reason:
In the land of the living, we are never far from grief season

The natural impulse is to seek out unease when stricken
To find comfort in the unseemly, and embrace discomfiting
But the pangs afflict further, and run up against respectability
When, in your pain, you’re accused of disturbing tranquility

The burden of the done thing enforces the miserable
Teaching a lifelong caution against the public spectacle
The laws of grief, in their fullness, verge on the obscene
The fear of flailing even when you want to scream

In memoriam: Atu Mould (1972-2020)

All is not lost

Grief, a playlist

A soundtrack for this lament. (spotify version)

See previously:

This treatise and internal displacement is part of a series: In a covidious time

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Writing log: February 22, 2021

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