MOURNING DIARY BOOK REVIEW
By Roland Barthes
Mourning Diary by Barthes is quite possibly the most complete portrait of grief that I have read up to this point. After my father’s death I began to read everything I could get my hands on about grief, hoping that maybe someone elses experience, their words, would give me the right words to express what I’d been feeling. I always thought that I wouldn’t find a piece that encapsulates all of the different facades of grief; the physicality, the mental and neurological aspects, and of course the emotionality, however Mourning Diary does. In the fragments of thought that Barthes allows his reader to share with him, he creates a more whole portrait of a grieving individual.
He is gentle and hard on himself simultaneously. He allows himself the space he needs to sit in his sorrow and let it wash over him and in turn it washes over his reader whom easily finds parallel experiences and emotions. He documents his new struggle with navigating a world that he is unfamiliar with now that his mother is gone, and how his relationships with close friends and places have changed. He feels the solitude of grief, its quietness, the strange sensation of wanting to be completely alone even though the mourner feels a new and profound sense of loneliness. Solitude is the only balm for grief.
Barthes writes about the problems those left behind face upon the death of a loved one, the language that this world has provided us is insufficient in conveying the gravity and multitude of emotions that are felt. He writes “Don’t say mourning. It’s too psychoanalytic. I’m not mourning. I’m suffering.” In this snippet of a thought Barthes has managed to articulate all that I was unable to when I sat in his position. I took this idea of mourning in all its psychoanalytic, neurological glory and I sank into it, because surely if there was a medical reasoning behind my experience there would also be the possibility for some remedy, a tonic to rid my body and mind of the suffocating sorrow. Suffering doesn’t allow the sufferer the possibility for a cure, for with suffering comes the acceptance of time and I couldn't accept this. I couldn’t accept that very likely, I would suffer the loss of my father for the rest of my life. To submerge oneself into suffering, Barthes suggests, is to accept one’s pain, to take steps in chipping it away bit by bit. He does not however, subscribe to the notion that time will heal one's grief and sadness and suffering, and upon reading “we don’t forget but something vacant settles in us.” I realized that the fear that I would suffer the loss of my father for the rest of my life was quite well founded but in the bond that two suffering individuals feel, it wasn’t as alarming as it was in the days after my father’s death. I believe it is when one accepts the vacancy settled within themselves that they are able to make space for the things that remind us of our loved ones, the things that would make them proud. For me, the vacant space provides room for writing.