The Art of Mourning

Photo Credit: “Georgia Storm” by Jen Padron, ios 5s, b/w
Photo Credit: “Georgia Storm” by Jen Padron, ios 5s, b/w

In graduate school at UT Austin, while engaging in electroconvulsive treatment, my academic advisor would refer to my resiliency. That I suited up, showed up. Graduate school gave me something to hang onto and to busy myself with intellectually; something that was rooted firmly, concretely, in time and space. But most of all it allowed structure back into my world. Conversely, while ECT was a last-breath attempt to abate all further SI (self-injury) attempts, it was intensive and invasive, affecting my cognitive abilities. I struggled with draft after draft for multiple coursework papers.

Today, I wish I’d saved writing to note the Before, During and After of ECT, out of my curiosity to see exactly how ECT has slowed me down over the years since then. There are many people, places, things, feelings, impressions, contacts, days and nights of sleeping that were induced with extremely heavy psychotropic medicating that I cannot recall anymore. Faces. Names. Love. Friends. Colleagues. Work.

I muse today that daily doses of 1200 mg of Lithium and 2000 mg of Seroquel required me to stand upright, not sloped, against walls to keep balance, slurring out my presence – “yes, yes… I’m listening.” When I see the walking, sloped backs locally, knowing and recognizing the signs, I know. I understand.

November rings in more than self-doubt. The woman who said No to my proposal leaves this November. I remain. The orange gold brown red leaves fall like tears on cracked Baltimore sidewalks and I don’t bother to photograph them either. They scare me for what is to come. I’m cold inside and to wear layers takes great effort inasmuch as I welcome in ill-health. My beloved kind only sibling died near 3 years ago as did my mother who on Thanksgiving was given 2 weeks, staying for 2 more days. I held her hand in ICU and she spoke gibberish about “… seagulls… I see them,” mesmerizing me that in her next life she would be a bird. My father’s face fell and I watched at deathbed the purposed drop of all life, her small body stopped shifting, painless then.

The art of mourning.

Today, I struggle with completing my dissertation in public health. All but dissertation. My shaman, Jaes Seis, actually suggested that it may be due to a fear of finishing, where I’d actually move on, move on, walking away from academic study. There may be some truth in it. I will walk and receive my photograph in full regalia before the next winter solstice; I fantasize about walking directly from there into post-doc study.

Childhood experiences falling into categories of trauma from repeated physical, emotional, sexual and verbal assaults from a family member come to the fore today, front and center stage. My depression is in full swing today. There is no ideating and I have no plan; however, the seed to loss brings with it heartache, troubled sleep and waking in the dark; walking my long narrow hallway, the old Hopkins building’s floor creaking beneath each hard step. I dress daily and caffeine intake helps some. My other lacking  ADLs* don’t ride, but seem unimportant.

The art of mourning.

Heartache and throbbing brain with difficult recall, tracking and staying present, accessible, I fall into work. Entirely diversionary but it works most of the time.

Mindfulness. Discernment and Intention. Getting Outside these 4 walls. Breathing from the belly. Remembering to eat – not what’s just available, and I haven’t much on hand today. I withhold out of my inability to care, truly, for basic inherent needs.


How dare it be sunny outdoors today. I admit it to be true that the Northwest is a better match for my moods. Soon there will be more cold air, ice, snow on the roads. That brings with it practical concerns, like where the hell and what the hell to do with my Jeep to avoid snow plows in front of my building. Will I push into the next phase and place. To discern steps that I can’t see or acknowledge to date is a matter of being thick in grief and loss, and to mourn what was takes great mastery that I lack. The ceiling is tall with no beams. I often look upwards and see only white or eggshell cream paint on the walls, a misnomered shade offering some level of comfort, cracks visible from other years of settling.

There is no residual comfort in grieving. But there may be some in the art of hearing the strains of mournful praise for Keeping Hope; the sound goes past my shut eyes and closed-down ears. What actually helps is to touch and be touched, hold and be held, wordlessly, at eye-level, knowing this truth is not forgotten; Love was had and does persist.

* * * * *

* ADL’s; Activities of Daily Living


This is dedicated:

MBJ – a light like a beloved should and she was
Flo Padron Baker (b. October 10, 1960 – d. November 20, 2012)
Maria Casanova Padron (b. June 7, 1934 – d. November 29, 2008)



Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.


Mad in America has made some changes to the commenting process. You no longer need to login or create an account on our site to comment. The only information needed is your name, email and comment text. Comments made with an account prior to this change will remain visible on the site.


  1. Dear Jennifer:

    “What actually helps is to touch and be touched, hold and be held” Thank you for these powerful words which touch something in me. I too am struggling with grief after losing my older sister this August and my mother three years ago. My daughter is still locked up in a psych facility and I miss being able to get insight and hugs from two principal women in my life during this crazy-making journey of having a loved one in the mental health system. Thankfully, spirit sisters have partially filled the emptiness (emphasis on ‘partially’) Like you, I dress everyday. I guess its important to keep showing up to life. May you complete your doctoral degree and find a way to put it to good use next year. The northwest would welcome you and yes the weather here isn’t nearly as cold as Baltimore. Meanwhile, I hope you keep warm and to find some small joy each and every day this winter.

    Report comment