An Essay on Grief

Human beings are social creatures. Not only do they need companionship; they derive satisfaction from helping and supporting one another. Human beings, and indeed all mammals to some extent, are naturally nurturing creatures. They are drawn to protect the weak and the frail. Usually, this impulse to nurture finds fulfillment in the care parents take of their children. That’s the origin of the phenomenon of “empty-nest syndrome,” the feeling parents experience when their children first leave home, when there is no longer anyone for them to take care of, no one who needs their care.

This need to nurture, wherever it originally came from, was undoubtedly reinforced by natural selection. Human beings need a particularly extended period of parental care before they are able to survive on their own, much longer than is required by any other animal. Parents must care for their children for many years before those children have any hope of being able to care for themselves. This arguably creates an enormous debt on the part of children toward their parents. Of course, parents rarely expect to be repaid for the care they take of their children and most children rarely have an opportunity to do that.

I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to repay my father for at least some of the care he took of me when I was a child. My mother and sisters expressed concern for my father’s situation when we were all together for the last Thanksgiving my father hosted a few years…

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