#120: "Where are the rules of grief written..."

Updated: Oct 12


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I came across this quote while reading a Regency England novel by Sally Britton, and it brought the story of Zhuangzi's mourning to mind. From The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu, the story goes as follows:


Zhuangzi's wife died. When Huizu went to convey his condolences, he found Zhuangzi sitting with his legs sprawled out, pounding on a tub and singing. "You lived with her, she brought up your children and grew old," said Huizu. "It should be enough simply not to weep at her death. But pounding on a tub and singing - this is going too far, isn't it?"


Zhuangzi said, "You're wrong. When she first died, do you think I didn't grieve like anyone else? But I looked back to her beginning and the time before she was born. Not only the time before she was born, but the time before she had a body. Not only the time before she had a body, but the time before she had a spirit. In the midst of the jumble of wonder and mystery a change took place and she had a spirit. Another change and she had a body. Another change and she was born. Now there's been another change and she's dead. It's just like the progression of the four seasons, spring, summer, fall, winter.


"Now she's going to lie down peacefully in a vast room. If I were to follow after her bawling and sobbing, it would show that I don't understand anything about fate. So I stopped."


Society often maintains expectations about how we must grieve the loss of someone or something we care about. This is true especially where rituals play an important role in defining proper behavior and conveying due respect. However, just as there are infinite ways of relating to others, there are infinite ways of saying goodbye, or as I prefer to see it, welcoming change. It is up to each of us to determine what that might be.

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