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Chapter Five: Study #1: Vigilance for life on a deathwatch: One mother’s dying and death

Richard J. Alapack Karnac Books ePub

“The heart’s testimony is better than a thousand witnesses.”

—Turkish Proverb

How do the roots of my raising pertain to the themes of this book? Prior to any philosophical “choices,” upon which existential platform have I stood to see—in the way that I behold—sorrow’s profiles? Here comes a snippet about where I came from to help you assess my approach.

I was born and raised in the hard coal or anthracite region of Northeastern Pennsylvania, specifically in Wyoming Valley. The region was a magnet for peoples all over Eastern and Western Europe. They came in droves to work the coal mines. The valley was a melting pot during my formative years. My mother was Polish; my father Croatian. After a drunken driver killed him—when I was three and a half years old, to the day—my grandmother moved her family to Binghamton, New York. But I grew up in the valley, in daily contact with Russian, Ukrainian, Irish, German, Slovak, Scottish, Welsh, English, and Lithuanian … with Bohunks, Pollocks, Krauts, Litvaks, Croats, Wasps, Limeys, Spics, and Shamrocks … with friends and neighbours.

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Chapter Twenty One: Unmasking regret’s lie

Richard J. Alapack Karnac Books ePub

In the preceding chapters, I have dragged regret from pillar to post. I delve into it thoroughly, not only because it is incredibly common in everyday life, but also because it is largely neglected in mainstream psychology, psychiatry, and psychoanalysis. More importantly, and as mentioned previously, it holds that middle position of supplanting grief but being qualitatively different from depression.

The labour of grieving eventually culminates. Grief-work is terminable. Freud’s unconvincing capitulation to a naturalistic psychic wear-out makes sense on the grounds that the Maestro knows the musical score has to come to an end. Sorrow, I have argued, is the optimal resolution. We forgive, feel forgiven, and hold the dear one close in her absence. Sorrow springs the trap on distorted memories. It brings us genuinely into the calm and serenity of truth. Depression betokens the inability to forgive and eventuates in the untruth of living as split. Consequently, someone or another takes the brunt of our negativity, even as we berate and punish ourselves. Regret is the orienting disposition in-between. The explanation of this is not one sentence long.

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Chapter Eighteen: Regret

Richard J. Alapack Karnac Books ePub

Within the economy of human melancholy, the phenomena of sorrow, grief, depression, and regret are kindred. Piggybacking on Freud and Kierkegaard, I have already qualitatively distinguished between normal grief and depression and between depression and sorrow. I also presented excessive and extreme grief reactions and crimes of passion that index temporary insanity. Regret hovers betwixt and between all these phenomena. I could have easily have translated into a regret-episode any of the situations under consideration. The obsessive review, one hallmark of the hyper-investment stage of grief-work, oozes with regret. The god-awful struggle to balance forgetting and remembering hallmarks both that stage and the “moment” of regretful sorrow. The “gone crazy” story of Baba in Kite Runner overflows with the emotion.

The next four chapters focus particularly on the place that regret holds within our psychological economy. My insight is that living in regret signifies unresolved grief, but likewise indicates that the sufferer has not lapsed into depression. As a still open wound, regret localizes one’s complaint about Life, even as it masks one’s dissatisfaction or disappointment with self. Regret keeps at bay the blanket of gloom that depression throws over the sufferer’s life-space. Put differently, regret twists my sorrow so that I do not stare straight and unflinchingly at that which causes me pain. Because of this in-between status, regret is a central phenomenon in the drama of human loss and lingering hurt. I put it through the ringer, so to speak, trying to squeeze out of it as much meaning as possible. I will be doubling back, re-visiting certain hurts, and hopefully deepening our understanding of sorrow’s profiles.

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Chapter Three: Phase III: Recovery—The power or failure of the imagination

Richard J. Alapack Karnac Books ePub

According to mainstream literature, the conscious decision that dwelling in the past is fruitless inaugurates the third stage. Life must flow forward into a new future. If you are smiling at this vain hope—that the rational brain plus self-aggrandized willpower can put a stop to the grinding grief-machine—I share your dubiousness. Freud’s language puts teeth into that marshmallow description, one vague enough to mean almost anything. He also demonstrates that the detached brain has precious little to do with it. The key is that the bereaved is able to imagine a new future approaching like a snow storm.

For Freud, recovery means that the overwhelmed individual, who had psycho-spiritually beaten himself half to death, finally has severed the link and is capable of re-investing in life, and even of forming new ties. In a nutshell, the individual regains the capacities—Freud’s hallmarks of maturity—to love and work.

Of all the ambiguities generated by our de-ritualized culture, top-shelf is the acceptable time to cease grieving … publicly. When can we say, “It’s finished. Get ready world! I’m back.” If I desire to date again, for example, or to initiate another intimate partnership, when can I go back into circulation without tongues wagging? Especially if I’m a … woman! Since I’m back in “circulation,” I must be “on the prowl” right? Our culture has no acknowledged time of mourning. In traditional cultures, the period is as rigid and as simple as taking off the black dress of mourning that you had been wearing for a year. In Vietnam, traditionally the widow and her children are prohibited from marrying until three years after the death. Don’t hold your breath. In the West it will never be that simple again; a throwback is not even desirable. But a peek at some tradition-bound ways will give us a frame of reference, some realistic para meters, and help to put the matter into a historical and cross-cultural perspective.

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Chapter Nineteen: Regret themes

Richard J. Alapack Karnac Books ePub

It is easy to picture regret as ponderous. At first blush, it seems to be a stagnant emotion that weighs the body down and corrodes the soul. One imagines it as insidiously caustic, part of a process of decay, erosion, or a psycho-spiritual cancer. One pictures the person in regret as a monolithic structure, a big blob infested with termites that are eating away at his vital resources. Regret carries the connotation that something has befallen us and plagues us so that we cannot shake it, or we refuse to. Regret takes its toll. It is purely negative, is it not? It’s just a downhill slide.

Such images capture one face of regret, no doubt. But regret is also dynamic, not just passive. Its valence is potentially positive. How so?

Regret provokes a life-review. Reviews lead to revisions. A sense of anticipation is set aflame. Just as the two characters in Chinese that combine to form the word “anxiety” singly mean “opportunity” and “danger,” it is the same with regret. Taking stock of myself, I garner power to transform my life. The past opens afresh, and I am able to alter it. Both psychoanalysis and phenomenology give us the gift of demonstrating that the past changes whenever meanings change. Lightly, we say we now possess “20–20 hindsight”. But it is more than an eye-opener. The mere accumulation of experience or the passage of time grants nothing. More accurately, either we gain a special insight and undergo a transformation, or the downhill slide turns into a snowball rolling to hell.

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