In the last few years I have watched some friends face the death of their spouse. In some cases it was quite unexpected. I watched their brokenness and their slow healing. And of course, I have wondered if I could ever continue on if Teckla died suddenly. I have wondered in what sense those that mourn are blessed, and what is the nature of their comfort. To me the comfort seems small in comparison to the hurt. Honestly, I don’t get it. It may be, I suppose, comfort we receive only after we also die. But I found some help in understanding mourning in a short story by Wendell Berry.
Berry begins his collection of short stories That Distant Land with a one entitled “The Hurt Man.” In it he presents a mother, Nancy Feltner, whose first two children died. She now wears mourners’ black all the time. Berry makes clear, however, that her mourning is full of life and love—not bitterness or darkness. Her young son, Mat, now their only child, saw that “she maintained her sorrows with a certain loyalty, wearing black, she was a woman of practical good sense and strong cheerfulness.”
Berry’s story moves along to Mat’s memory of a time when a man hurt in a drunken brawl took refuge in their home. Mat watches closely as his Mom tends to the hurt man:
What he saw in her face would remain with him forever. It was pity, but it was more than that. It was a hurt love that seemed to include entirely the hurt man. It included him and disregarded everything else. It disregarded the aura of whiskey that ordinarily she would have resented; it disregarded the blood puddled on the porch floor and the trail of blood through the hall. . . .To him, then, it was as though she leaned in the black of her mourning over the whole hurt world itself, touching its wounds with her tenderness, in her sorrow.
Berry gives us a beautiful picture of redemptive mourning—the kind of mourning that dredges the depths of our compassion. Nancy Feltner’s grief had enlarged her heart toward the hurting.
Her love may be most powerfully expressed by what she disregards. Mourning, feeling fully what we have lost, can make us see more clearly what is important. We can look past our opinions, aggravations, and inconveniences—we see the worth of the hurt people around us.