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The Mourning Process: A Critical Analysis from Different Perspectives Research Paper

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Updated: Dec 12th, 2019


Life is regarded as a cycle that has distinct phases from when it starts to when it ends. The cycle starts from conception and leads all the way to the death of an individual. Each of these phases is characterized by emotional reactions and such other elements. Death is the culmination of an individual’s physical existence. It is the last stage of the cycle. A wide range of emotions are elicited by the death of a given person.

The emotions are experienced by those left behind by the deceased given that the dead person has no feelings. The emotions range from an individual to the other depending on a number of factors. One such factor is the relationship that the person left behind had with the dead.

If the relationship was close, the person left behind tends to get more emotional than if the relationship was not very close. The emotions also depend on the psychological make-up of the bereaved. Some individuals cope with the bereavement better than others. Freud (237) suggests that mourning is one of the emotional phenomena that the people experience upon the death of one of their loved ones.

The current paper examines mourning from different perspectives presented through a number of case studies. Different scholars approach the issue of mourning differently depending on their academic and spiritual orientations. According to Bowlby (43), mourning is a phenomenon that is associated with a number of notions.

In this essay, the author examines a number of the said notions. More specifically, the paper looks at the symptoms associated with trauma. The author analyzes whether trauma is a sign of incomplete mourning process or not.

Further, the paper examines the mourning mechanism and seeks to distinguish it from melancholia. The author of this paper believes that mourning and melancholia are two different phenomena. Finally, the paper examines loss and absence in relation to mourning. It seeks to distinguish between the two concepts.

The current paper is an analytical study. As such, it makes reference to two main texts. In their text, Spiegelman (8) introduces the Jewish experiences during the holocaust in a comical presentation.

Similarly, Speer (3) outlines the motivation behind Nazi leadership’s commission of the heinous crimes against the Jews. In both instances, death and mourning emerge as some of the major themes. The current essay makes a comparative analysis between the arguments presented in both texts.

The Different Notions of Mourning

According to Lifton (cited in Lageman 302), people mourn due to various tragic experiences in their lives. Death is not the only reason why people mourn. For example, people may go through experiences that are similar to mourning for losing a job and such other treasured items.

Lifton (cited in Lageman 302) makes reference to the tragic occurrences associated with the nuclear bomb that was released at Hiroshima during the Second World War. Many people, even those who were not in the country where the bomb was dropped, mourned for the loss of lives. According to Bowlby (43), mourning is a process that has 8 notions.

The author argues that death results in the disruption of the personal construct system of a bereaved person. To structure this argument, Bowlby (43) makes reference to the cognitive theory. The theory explains why people experience a lot pain upon the loss of a special someone. One such instance is evidenced through Vladek’s pain upon the loss of his wife (McGlothin 180; Spiegelman 34).

The reality of losing a loved one is difficult to deal with. The bereaved person is forced to make adjustments in their life to accommodate the grief and the loss (Bowlby 43). The transformations brought about by such losses suggest that there are various notions about mourning.

The different notions allow for a deeper insight into the process of mourning. One of the notions associated with this phenomenon is that it has different stages. Scholars are of the view that people go through each of the suggested stages of mourning. An example of this case is observed by Speer’s (3) account of the German’s motivation to kill the Jews.

Speer (3) makes reference to a significant event during the summer of 1943. During this summer, a number of Germans in Hamburg were killed in a bomb attack. The military and other leaders in the country were pained at the loss of their people. They believed that the best way to ease the pain they felt as a result of the loss was to revenge the death of the Germans.

They concluded that the best revenge is through killing the Jews. In essence, the Nazis were mourning the loss of their own by torturing and killing the Jews. The torture was a way of dealing with the pain they felt. However, Vladek, who lost his wife in the concentration camps in Germany, mourns differently.

He mourns by masking his pain as opposed to revenging against the Germans. According to Spiegelman (16), Vladek marries another woman to fill the void left behind by his wife. He remarries to deal with the loneliness he experiences as a result of the loss.

Another notion touching on mourning is that people learn to live with the loss of their loved one. According to Bowlby (44), there are people who chose not to get over a tragedy and, consequently, struggle to live a normal life. They try to ignore the pain brought about by the loss.

Friedman (276) illustrates his depression as he seeks to advance in his life and career in art. Despite his fame as a publisher, the experiences revolving around the loss of his parents continue to haunt him. He is struggling to live with the immense loss.

Spiegelman (45) is obviously depressed by the sad events that led to the loss of his parents. The pain and depression is evident in his writings. The author, however, did not experience the holocaust himself. As a result, he feels guilty at his inability to depict an accurate account of the real situation at Auschwitz concentration camps. The sorrow drives him to seek professional assistance from a psychiatrist.

In this regard, Bowlby (43) suggests another notion of mourning. According to Bowlby (43), mourning involves professional assistance. Some mourners require professional assistance to overcome their grief. The author argues that only mourners who are at a high risk of experiencing mental pain should seek professional help in the form of counseling.

Other notions of mourning touch on the manner in which people respond to loss. The response to loss may vary from one culture to another (Bowlby 43). The response to death, as exhibited by different persons, is a psychological phenomenon (Lageman 302). The same explains the guilt exhibited by Speer (6) and Spiegelman (Friedman 276).

In both cases, the two personalities respond to the loss of human life during the holocaust with guilt. Speer (6) affirms that the atrocities did actually occur. He expresses deep regret at being part of the loss of so many lives.

On his part, Spiegelman (45) expresses his guilt feelings, albeit from a perspective that is different from that of Speer. Spiegelman (45) feels guilty for not having lived the torture that his parents went through while at the camp.

The Work of Mourning

When one is bereaved, the grief and subsequent mourning is a tedious endeavor. A look at the experiences of Vladek illustrates that mourning is not any different from work (Rothberg 681). In his attempts to move on with his life, Vladek gets another wife.

He feels that this is the best way to respond to the death of his first wife. Rothberg (681) paints that singular act as Vladek’s attempt to move on with his life. However, the wife becomes a source of pain instead of happiness. In the long run, the new wife causes him suffering.

Spiegelman (45) seeks psychiatric help owing to the psychological pressures that he is subjected to by the death of his parents. He feels that he is unable to cope with the pain and the loss alone. In addition, the thought of his parent’s experience while under the control of Nazi illustrates the amount of emotional strain he has to endure.

The experiences of this man form one of the perspectives from which to look at the mourning process. Looking at the process from such a perspective indicates that mourning should be considered as work. The psychological strain that one undergoes as they mourn is similar to the effects of physical labor. In both cases, the person is fatigued.

Members of the society, however, do not view mourning as actual work. As a result of this, people tend to ignore the fact that one requires emotional support after losing a loved one. Spiegelman (1) opens his comic by an illustration of an image of what appears to be his late brother.

The sign is indicative of a person who is paying tribute to a loved one. An important aspect to note about Spiegelman is the fact that he uses images of mice to depict the Jewish characters in his story. The use of such images can be viewed as an extension of the tribute he pays to all the people who were tortured and ultimately killed by the Nazi. It is an indication of the close ties he has with the victims.

However, the public does not seem to appreciate the work he put in the imagery he created with the use of the characters. Spiegelman (42) maintains that to him, money is not the solution to his grief. According to him, all he wants is closure. The same is evidenced by the way he declines monetary rewards for his work.

He insists that he would prefer his mother’s life as remuneration for his efforts to create the Maus I and II. His reaction is an illustration of the fact that the society does not view mourning as work.

There are instances where mourners are denied the required emotional support upon bereavement. Such mourners may not have been the direct victims of the loss. However, mourning can be as a result of the death of certain aspirations and goals that one intended to see to fruition. According to Speer (2), the Nazis were fighting for a greater German empire.

That was an aspiration and goal that they intended to actualize. That notwithstanding, Speer reveals that their Commander in Chief (Hitler) was not inspired by the interests and aspirations of the other people who were involved in the war. In his deposition, Speer (2) reveals that Hitler may have had other motives.

Speer (2) indicates that Hitler was driven by his hate for Jews. However, he deceived the Germans that the reason behind their fighting was the creation of a stronger Germany. He goes on to write as follows:

“I still today consider as just that I assume the responsibility and thus the guilt for everything that was perpetrated by way of, generally speaking, crime, after my joining the Hitler Government on the 8th February 1942. Not the individual mistakes, grave as they may be, are burdening my conscience, but my having acted in the leadership” (Speer 11).

Speer was involved in a certain troop in the Nazi army. Speer (6) makes it known that he mourns his participation in the war. He mourns the fact that he was perpetuating war for an aspiration that was not shared by his superior. The psychological implications of his actions force him to own up to his activities. It is the guilt he felt that made him admit he committed the atrocities.

Consequently, the court sentenced him to 20 years in prison for his crimes. It appears that the court disregarded the fact that he, too, was in mourning. It is important to note that the court did not recommend psychiatric attention for him.

Differences between Mourning and Melancholia

According to Freud (243), there exists a relationship between mourning and melancholia. Freud views the latter as a normal emotion in human life. Freud (243) suggests that mourning is the response to loss and bereavement on the part of the individual.

When one is mourning, norms dictate that they should be allowed time to overcome their pain. In most cases, individuals who are mourning do not receive any form of clinical attention. The process of mourning is conscious. The individual is aware of what they are doing.

On its part, melancholia is an unconscious response to a tragedy in one’s life. Hirsch (12) indicates that in response to the tragedy in his life, Art Spiegelman resorts to the use of his comic books to tell his story. As aforementioned, one of the notions about mourning is that trauma is a sign of incomplete mourning process.

To this end, Spiegelman attempts to hide his pain through his career. The imagery in his art is a depiction of his pain, suggesting that he is mourning. It is important to note that all his attempts to deal with his loss are conscious, hence the conclusion that he is mourning.

Vladek, on the other hand, appears to be traumatized by his experience in the detention camp (Spiegelman 37). He exhibits weird behaviors, like stinginess and returning grocery to the store. The behavior drives his new wife away. However, Vladek is not aware that his actions of dealing with his trauma are affecting people. The same explains why he was recommended for home based clinical care to help him deal with his behavior.

Freud (244) adds that melancholia inhibits an individual from identifying their loss, given its unconscious state. Speer (11) admits that he took part in the murder of Jews. Such an admission suggests that he was mourning as well.

The officer regrets his actions and adds that the atrocities committed by the Nazis were heinous and regrettable. In essence, he mourns for the death of so many people he might not have known. Such is an example of someone who is mourning.

Distinction between Absence and Loss

In the opinion of LaCapra (698), there exists a relationship between absence and loss. Towards this end, the scholar is of the view that,

“…absence at a foundational level cannot simply be derived from particular historical losses, however much it may be suggested or its recognition prompted by their magnitude and the intensity of one’s response to them. When absence is converted into loss, one increases the likelihood of misplaced nostalgia or utopian politics in quest of a new totality or fully unified community” (LaCapra 698).

To support his argument that there exists a relationship between loss and absence, the scholar makes reference to the similarity of the atrocities committed by the regimes in Germany and South Africa. LaCapra (700) suggests that in the case of absence and loss, trauma is bound to affect an individual.

However, there are differences between the two. For example, absence may be a component of loss of a loved one. LaCapra (700) adds that the converse may not be true. In addition, losses can be associated with a particular event. Absence, on the other hand, cannot be placed in any tense. Spiegelman (45) demonstrates the difference between the two phenomena in his text.

In the case of Vladek (Spiegelman 13), it is evident that the absence of a companion drives him to marry another wife. Spiegelman has also experienced losses. He lost his first son and his wife.

He feels the need to fill the void left behind by his wife. It is one of the reasons why he makes the decision to have his son and daughter-in-law live with him when his second wife (Mala) left. The same explains why he is experiencing melancholia. Vladek is unable to retrace the absence he is experiencing to an exact moment in his past.

On the other hand, Artie’s traumatic experiences are evidently due to the loss he has experienced. He lost his mother, brother, and father. All of the said losses are events he can place in his past (Spiegelman 45). The depression he goes through is attached to the absence of his family in spite of the fact that he has a flourishing career.

In his case, the absence is linked to the loss he has experienced. In addition, Speer (1) can be said to have experienced loss. He realized that he was not fighting to improve his country. He claims that Hitler misled the fighters for personal gains. As such, he is mourning the loss of life and the loss of moral standing.

Works Cited

Bowlby, John. Loss: Sadness and Depression. New York: Basic Books, 1980. Print

Freud, Sigmund. “Mourning and Melancholia.” The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud 14 (1914-1916): 237-258. Print.

Friedman, Elisabeth. “Spiegelman’s Magic Box: Metamaus and the Archive of Representation.” Studies in Comics 3.2 (2012): 275-291. Print.

Hirsch, Marianne. “Family Pictures: Maus, Mourning and Post-Memory.” Discourse 2.2 (1992): 3-29. Print.

LaCapra, Dominick. “Trauma, Absence, Loss.” Critical Inquiry 25.2 (1999): 696-727. Print.

Lageman, August. “Encounter with Death: The Thought of Robert J. Lifton.” Journal of Religion and Health 26.4 (1987): 300-308. Print.

McGlothin, Erin. “No Time Like the Present: Narrative and Time in Art Spiegelman’s Maus.” Narrative 11.2 (2003): 117-198. Print.

Rothberg, Michael. “We Were Talking Jewish: Art Spiegelman’s Maus as ‘Holocaust’ Production.” Contemporary Literature 35.4 (1994): 661-687. Print.

Speer, Albert. Affidavit in a deposition. (n.p). 1977. Web.

Spiegelman, Art. Maus: A Survivor’s Tale. New York: Pantheon Books, 1986. Print.

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