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  • Writer's pictureBrian Hartzman

Twain on grief

All say, "How hard it is that we have to die" -- a strange complaint to come from the mouths of people who have had to live. - Mark Twain

I recently finished a short biography about Mark Twain, and was interested to understand that he was no stranger to grief. He was someone who is best known for his cunning observation of humanity and humorous writing and personality; but he struggled with death, and its impact on his life. On his 36th wedding anniversary, 18 months after his wife’s death, he reflected on his life with his wife, and on the grief of her passing, and that of his daughter, who had died about 10 years earlier. Among his reflections, he wrote this on grief:

It is one of the mysteries of our nature that a man, all unprepared, can receive a thunder-stroke like that and live. There is but one reasonable explanation of it. The intellect is stunned by the shock, and but gropingly gathers the meaning of the words. The power to realize their fall import is mercifully wanting. The mind has a dumb sense of vast loss—that is all. It will take mind and memory months, and possibly years, to gather together the details, and thus learn and know the whole extent of the loss. A man’s house burns down. The smoking wreckage represents only a ruined home that was dear through years of use and pleasant associations. By and by, as the days and weeks go on, first he misses this, then that, then the other thing. And, when he casts about for it, he finds that it was in that house. Always it is an essential—there was but one of its kind. It cannot be replaced. It was in that house. It is irrevocably lost. He did not realize that it was an essential when he had it; he only discovers it now when he finds himself balked, hampered, by its absence. It will be years before the tale of lost essentials is complete, and not till then can he truly know the magnitude of his disaster. (

I always appreciate being aware of someone else’s reflection on grief. It helps me to know others who get it. I don’t feel so alone, and it helps me to process and frame my own thoughts as well.

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