Jan 14, 2016

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Reflecting On Loss: Saudade and Memento Mori

Reflecting On Loss: Saudade and Memento Mori

Memento Mori

After experiencing the sudden loss this week of a very sweet and kind soul that I had the opportunity to get to know, I have found myself at a general loss for words in this time of grieving. It is difficult to conceptualize the death of such a young, vibrant individual and it is especially hard to find words of comfort for those who were closest to her. I have come to realize that in moments like these it is only time that can begin to heal the sadness of such a devastating loss. There are two concepts that come to my mind when I think about the unexpected series of events that has unfolded before me this week.

The first thing that I think about is a Portuguese word called “saudade”. This word has no direct translation into English but refers to a melancholic state of profound longing for someone or something that is lost and not likely to return. Saudade is said to encompass both the good feelings associated with the happy memories of someone, along with the emptiness associated with their absence. It is believed by some that the word was derived in response to women and children being left behind when their men went off to fight wars and didn’t return. In Brazil, January 30 is recognized as the official Day of Saudade, and the feeling is reported to be experienced frequently by the locals.

When it comes to the loss I recently experienced, I associate the feeling of saudade to the people that were closest to her. I can only imagine the suffering and grief that they are experiencing, and the best way for me to conceptualize it is through this Portuguese word. While they feel joy from the memories that they are so fortunate to have collected, they also feel sincere despair when realizing that those memories are the only part of their loved one that remains.

The second concept that enters my mind when I think of this recent tragedy is the Medieval Latin theory of “Memento Mori”. This reflective practice of mortality is loosely translated to “remember that you will die”, and by focusing on detaching from other virtues, one can then turn their attention to the soul’s immortality and the afterlife. This serves as a means of perfecting their character and as a regular reminder that death is always near.

Memento mori appeared as symbolic and artistic reminders of mortality in art during medieval times. A famous example of memento mori is the danse macabre, a painting depicting the Grim Reaper carrying away both poor and rich people alike. This was meant to symbolize that death does not discriminate. Additionally, the clocks during this time period were often decorated with the memento mori motto ultima forsan meaning “perhaps the last (hour)”. This served as a constant reminder that any moment could be your last.

I feel like this concept is important and relevant to my family’s recent bereavement because it is a great reminder for all of us that tomorrow is never promised. We must all try to live in the moment, be grateful for the good things in our lives, and frequently tell the people that we love just how much we appreciate them. Memento mori. Don’t let the moments slip by, because you never know when your last moment will arrive.

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