Grief and Keening
timeless wailing of the soul
“Intense mournful wailing after a death, often at a funeral or wake.”
Have you ever keened? It can rip out of your throat all at once, or it can start small, a bubble of agony in the abdomen working its way up into the chest and out your mouth as a sob, then a deeper breath, deeper sob; soon you are keening so loudly it can make ears bleed.
Aptly named, it is a sharp sound, high-pitched wailing cutting through bullshit platitudes, like a barber’s razor cutting through throat, releasing cataracts of blood and tears. It slices off pieces of one’s soul, leaves gaping lacerations in hearts somehow still beating.
It is said the first keening heard in Ireland was that of the goddess Brighid upon the death of her son in battle. Surely it was not the first; the last is yet to come. Perhaps if we all truly keened on deaths of youth on battlefields wars would cease to exist.
I’ve keened aloud a few times: on the accidental death of my mother, suicide of my nephew, drowning of my sister in a tide of booze and oxycontin. I keened alone, as though ashamed of my grief. Many times I have keened silently, more times than I can count, like many who have lived long or too hard…
Come to think of it the newborn’s wail is very like keening, wailing for the loss of warmth, security, soothing darkness, heartbeat, whatever love made it through the placenta…we revisit that loss every time we lose a loved one.
The Banshee’s wail lets us know whatever else life brings it will bring death. Paradoxically it brings purification, what is left when non-essential is cut away. You’d think there would be nothing left but bones but this is not true. We live on, healing or not, growing or not…the older we grow the more loss we suffer. Every time there is a lesson even if a nihilistic one. What a horribly tortured way to gain wisdom…
Billions and billions of us have screamed out we will love no more, no longer open ourselves to such agony. Yet we keep on loving, don’t we, as frightening as this is; we become more bitter, compassionate, wise, foolish, courageous, cowardly, one thing or another. Something true and solid remains as long as our hearts beat, and perhaps longer.
Bullshit platitude? I doubt it.
~ Wry Welwood
31st of August 2021
re-edited 6th of August 2022
Original previously published in The Lark, on the writers’ platform Medium.
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