Coping with Loss

Demeter learns of her daughter’s abduction to the Underworld through Helios, the Sun God. Homer tells us she is seized with “brutal grief” at the news. Her sorrow is compounded by the knowledge that she cannot access the Underworld to rescue her daughter. Persephone is trapped in the Underworld and cannot escape; Demeter, as the Goddess of the Grain, is restricted to the over world. So mother and daughter can never be reunited.

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    General View of Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore and the Telesterion (Initiation Hall), Center for the Eleusinian Mysteries, Eleusis;   Uploaded by Marcus Cyron; 6 February 2005, 13:10; Author: Carole Raddato from FRANKFURT, Germany [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

General View of Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore and the Telesterion (Initiation Hall), Center for the Eleusinian Mysteries, Eleusis; 

Uploaded by Marcus Cyron; 6 February 2005, 13:10; Author: Carole Raddato from FRANKFURT, Germany [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Demeter’s reaction to this devastating loss is understandable: she avoids dealing with the issue through withdrawal and denial. She disguises herself as an elderly mortal, leaving Olympus and the company of the gods. In other words, she does what many of us do when faced with gut-wrenching loss: she runs away from the problem and runs away from herself by denying her identity. Sometimes the pain of loss can be so overwhelming that we try to flee from it rather than face it.

Demeter manifests another very human trait in dealing with loss. Rather than coping with it, her desperation leads her to seek a substitute by appropriating another woman’s child for herself. Oftentimes when experiencing a loss or a break-up in a relationship, we scramble to find an alternative to ease our pain. We deny ourselves time to adjust to our loss. That Demeter takes a circuitous route before finally coming to terms with her loss suggests our own ability to heal from grief can be a matter of timing: we do so only when we are ready and we may not be ready until we have experienced some detours.

Loss must be acknowledged and accommodated. Each time Demeter joyfully embraces Persephone as she emerges from the Underworld, she is acknowledging there are some losses we can never reverse. She has learned to live with her loss by accepting Persephone for who she has become and not for what she once was. If we ever hope to move beyond our grief, we must do the same.

As the Hymn to Demeter shows us, dealing with grief can be avoided temporarily, but it cannot be avoided indefinitely. A hasty substitute is a short-term solution; denial delays the healing process. Sooner or later, we have to face reality, work through our loss, and embrace it. It is only by doing so will we be able to transcend it and move forward.

Demeter reacts to the injustice of her daughter’s abduction with understandable rage. However, she also manifests an all too frequent and not easily forgivable reaction some people exhibit when faced with oppression. This will be the subject of my next post.

Posted
AuthorTamara Agha-Jaffar

Hubris

Icarus and Daedalus    Photograph: Kaldari; Sculpture: Rebecca Matte (1875-1929); Creative Commons.Wikimedia

Icarus and Daedalus

Photograph: Kaldari; Sculpture: Rebecca Matte (1875-1929); Creative Commons.Wikimedia

Seeing the mischievous glint in his son’s eye, Daedalus warned him, again.

“You’re to follow me,” he said.  “And stick with the plan.  Not too high.  Not too low.  Keep an even balance. Do you understand?”

“Yes, father,” said Icarus.  “I get it. Not too high.  Not too low.”

So off they went with Daedalus in the lead. Needless to say, once they were off the ground, Icarus completely ignored his father’s warning. Exhilarated by the flight and convinced he knew better than his old man, Icarus soared higher and higher and closer and closer to the sun. He could hear his father shouting for him to fly lower, but he paid no attention. He was Icarus, after all, confident and self-assured.

As he soared higher and higher, Icarus happened to glance at his wings. To his horror, he realized the sun was melting the wax on the wooden frame, causing his feathers to fall off in droves.  He tried to reverse course, flapping what was left of his wings in a desperate effort to stay in the sky. But it was too late. His wooden frame could not support him, and poor Icarus plunged to his death in the sea.

What are we to make of this story of Icarus?  Does it have any relevance to our lives today?  If so, how? 

To understand the story of Icarus, we have to begin by understanding the significance of the sun and the sea.  So stay tuned.

Posted
AuthorTamara Agha-Jaffar
Daedalus and Icarus by Anthony Van Dyck; Wikimedia Commons

Daedalus and Icarus by Anthony Van Dyck; Wikimedia Commons

The Plan to Escape

This is the story of Icarus, one of my favorites in Greek mythology.

King Minos of Crete commissioned Daedalus, a master craftsman who also happened to be Icarus’ father, to build a prison from which no one could escape. Minos’ goal was to incarcerate the Minotaur. Daedalus obliged and created an elaborate labyrinth with so many twists and turns that it was impossible to find your way out once you were inside.  But then the tables turned against Daedalus, and he and his son, Icarus, were thrown into the labyrinth as its prisoners.

Refusing to submit to captivity, the ever-enterprising Daedalus planned his escape.  He constructed a wooden frame and by using wax as the adhesive, he glued feathers to the frame to create two pairs of wings, one for himself and one for his son.  The plan was to escape the labyrinth by flight.

Before giving Icarus his wings, Daedalus warned his son to maintain an even balance between the sea and the sun. “If you fly too close to the sea,” he cautioned him, “the waves will drench your wings and you’ll drown. If you fly too close to the sun, the heat will melt the wax on your wings.  You’ll lose your feathers, and you’ll drown.”

Icarus was young and brash, and like most young and brash people, he paid little attention to his father’s words.  He was itching to try on his wings and escape from the labyrinth.

In Part 2 we'll see the impact of hubris.

Posted
AuthorTamara Agha-Jaffar