The Grief of Living

Martin Scorsese’s new film “Silence,” is an adaption of Shusaku Endo’s novel about religious persecution in 17th century Japan.

Andrew Garfield plays a Portuguese Jesuit priest named Father Rodrigues. He travels to Japan with a fellow priest to advance Catholicism and to locate their mentor, who is rumoured to have committed apostasy.

In a recent interview for American magazine, Garfield said,

“I have been drawn to stories that are attempting to turn suffering into beauty,” he said. “I feel like I’ve been gifted and cursed with a closeness to some grief…the grief of living….”

Garfield elaborates further. He says,

“…the grief of living in a time and a place where a life of joy and love is impossible.”

We generally associate grief with loss. It’s the emotional suffering you feel when something or someone you love is taken away. The more significant the loss, the more intense the grief will be.

Garfield suggests that some people, whose lives are shattered by distressing events, are robbed of the opportunity to know joy and love. They experience ‘the grief of living.’

The Royal Commission into child sexual abuse in the Australian Catholic Church has found the leadership of the church to be complicit in a major cover-up. The Commission found that perpetrators were rarely punished but were re-assigned. They took on similar roles where they were free to take advantage of the vulnerable. The average age of the victims at the time they were allegedly abused was 10 for girls and 11 for boys. If they reported the abuse they could be punished. Victims were paid to keep silent. The Commission has identified 1880 alleged perpetrators in the Catholic Church.

I watched an interview with one of the victims. He said he had never talked about his experience and suggested shame had kept him silent. He acknowledged that during the intervening years he had resorted to drugs and alcohol to numb the pain. He praised the Commission and was grateful for the opportunity to tell his story. He thought he would be able to handle the hearing but broke down having read only a few words of his account, the hurt a constant in his life. He believed that owning what had happened and being able to talk about it was a first step in the long road to healing.

In his book, Crimes of the Father, Tom Keneally provides a fictional account of abuse in the Catholic Church. One of the victims, Stephen Cosgrove, uses his final word, a suicide note, to identify the perpetrator. In an act of defiant courage, he points the finger at his abuser, the distinguished monsignor, Father Leo Shannon. Stephen’s anger is clearly evident. He writes,

“…I’m sorry for my rage. I was angry all the time, like the old man in his heyday. But the one person I go to hell cursing is not whom you expect. Monsignor Shannon. My rage was for him.  And for myself as well. I take my hate for him to hell, matched by my own self-hate. He began when I was in Year 6 – I didn’t even know what he was talking about at the time, but I soon found out…”

It is tragic that suicide is often seen as the ultimate weapon in the fight against ‘the grief of living.’

James Hird was coach of the Essendon Football Club when 34 senior players were accused of doping breaches and subsequently charged. From the outset Hird tried to distance himself from the saga, maintaining he had no knowledge of the supplement regime administered by sports scientist, Stephen Dank. Despite many court cases and large sums of money, Hird was unable to establish his innocence. This troubled him a great deal, as he had garnered a reputation as an inspirational leader, known for his honesty and integrity, and well liked by many. The supplement saga threatened Hird’s identity and undermined his coaching aspirations. There was a shift in people’s perceptions of who he was. He felt alienated, cut off from the support he needed. While pursuing every avenue to vindicate his innocence, he succumbed to the ‘grief of living.’ He took an overdose in an attempt to end his life.

Dan Vickerman was one of the ‘giants’ of Australian rugby, an uncompromising competitor who was known as ‘the enforcer.’ Born in South Africa, Vickerman played 63 tests for Australia between 2002 and 2011. He played in three World Cups and was a major contributor to Australia’s tri-nation success. Vickerman was forced into retirement after an extended injury battle. It was a tearful farewell. Those close to Vickerman said he struggled with the transition from being a professional sportsman and the adulation it brings to finding a new career path.

It was reported recently in the press that Dan Vickerman, age 37, had taken his life or as the police like to frame it, ‘there were no suspicious circumstances.’ Vickerman left behind a wife and two young boys. It appears Vickerman reached a point in his life where he was unable to receive the love that was so freely given and couldn’t find the joy to sustain him through difficult times. He, like so many others, surrendered to ‘the grief of living.’

Author: Bruce Rickard

Reflections on Suicide and Staying Alive: My son's suicide changed everything. I felt an obligation to understand why anyone would want to end their life. My regular blog posts explore the causes and prevalence of suicide and what is needed to sustain a healthy mind and a hope-filled future.

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