All humans go through a sense of loss. There is nothing more human than the human capacity to mourn. We mourn the loss of our dead near and dear ones. Mourning is complex and cannot be easily ascribed a place for any ultimate and final meaning. Although we may see some commonality between mourning sorrow, sadness and regret, we cannot reduce one for another. Mourning is belated protection of the dead beloved. Hence it is a retrospective process that deals with the question of the place that the beloved still holds in the world and in us. This is why mourning resists resolution and clear understanding.
Derrida has been one of the main thinkers who has taken up the issue of mourning and opened us to complex relationship to otherness in the self as well as the other person. His book, the Work of Mourning engages with the theme of loss in response to the death of his colleagues, Roland Barthes, Michael Foucault, Gilles Deleuze and Jean-Francios Lyotard. We can find in this book Derrida’s Philosophy of loss.
The fact of mourning raises several questions that have no easy answers. We are haunted by questions such as: How does one mourn? What is mourning? When does it begin? To whom does it belong? How does one survive mourning? The process of mourning takes on a secret life of its own that is not readily available to the consciousness of the mourning person. Mourning above all helps us to deal with a precious loss and survive. This is why mourning can be a loss of something significant. It could be the loss of a human being, an ideal, a position etc. Mourning is a therapeutic process. Mourning in several ways lets us come to the closure of a traumatic disruption and move on with the terrible experience of loss. Melancholia on the other side is incorporating the loss into its self and is unable to move on.
The significance of mourning is the process of getting over or recovering from the loss of the beloved or significant other. Derrida states that reckoning with the dead other is extremely demanding and we risk consuming or colonizing the other by trying to internalise the other within the self. Derrida strives to illumine us of the best way that we can take up, the unique and delicate engagement to honour our beloved who has passed away. In doing so he takes us to the ethics of mourning. He lets us enter into our responsibility to the other even as the other is no more. Mourning being a question of responsibility to the other that we love cannot have a beginning with the death of the beloved other. Neither does it ends with time. Derrida teaches that it is interminable. Mourning is not just involved with the death of a beloved but is entangled with the mortality of the self that is mourning. This means mourning reckons with death and with the dead. It deals with those who were once with us but are no more but are still with us in as much as they are in us.
Mourning places us in an impossible condition. A person who mourns finds it difficult to speak but he/ she cannot remain silent but is moved to speak. The other that is dead is in us but we have the difficult task to come to terms with the fact that the other is not living in himself on this planet earth. Because he/she lives in us and not in himself/herself, it is possible for us to live in the memory of him/her. We do have several rituals in all cultures that enable us to live in the memory of our dead beloved. We have the challenge to preserve the otherness of our beloved and not consume it into the sameness of the self. The other having passed away lives in us in as much as we turn to live in his/her memory
Mourning, therefore, leads us to the parting words of Jesus Christ, ‘Do this in memory of me’. Doing is also living and hence mourning enables us to live in the memory of our beloved who is no more. This is the way we interiorise the person without interiorising him/ her. By living for him/ her, we turn the dead person living in us into a purpose of our life and thus exteriorize the person and live for him/her. This is the impossible task of mourning. It is a challenge to interiorise without interiorizing the dead beloved. Consummation/ consumption of the other within us nullifies the dead beloved. Freud has taught us that it is the way that melancholia works. But we have the ethical responsibility to the other who is no more. This responsibility did not originate with the death of the beloved. Hence we cannot consume the other within us. He/ she therefore will live in us as we live in his/her memory.
We have to live this unbearable paradox of fidelity to the beloved other who is no more. We have to deal with something outside of us and inside of us without totally annulling the other in our interiority. We have the challenge to live for the other. We have to live in the memory of him/her. This means in some way mourning has to fail in order to succeed. We cannot really fully interiorise our beloved who is no more and hence while interiorising the other we have the challenge not to interiorise. We interiorise by not interiorising by living in the memory of our dead beloved other. Our interiorising without interiorising respects the otherness of the other. This is another instance where we succeed by failing. Our failure succeeds as we are enabled to honour our beloved by living his/her memory. In this sense mourning is impossible. It succeeds by failing to fully interiorize. By living in the memory of our beloved who is no more, we affirm and keep alive the infinite otherness of our beloved. Mourning then becomes interminable because our life becomes a living off the memory of the dead beloved. The ethical challenge for us is not to reduce the other/ the beloved other into an idol and internalize him/her but to let the other live and stay alive in our life.