Grief and Antigone

It seems very early to get personal on these pages - heck, we haven't even offically launched yet - but this is very much on my mind, and I thought it better out than in.


My dad passed away last month and I was recently signed-off work with a grief-related depression. It arrived sneakily, allowing me to be practical, go to work and so on, before shrugging the disguise off and absolutely blind-siding me. If I were to crowbar Greek references in at every opportunity I'd be banging on about Odysseus and the destruction of the suitors, but then in that metaphor, I'd have to be the suitors, and I don't feel that would be an apt comparison. Besides, I fully intend to crowbar-in ill-fitting references from another text.


Antigone wants to bury her brother, the traitor Polynices, but is forbidden by Creon, and thus she is faced with the choice of following the laws of tradition, or obeying the state.


While she is angry with her uncle, this anger is fuelled by her overwhelming desire to do what is right for her brother, and to allow him to pass into the underworld.

Throughout, though, there is a thread of grief which is almost uncontrollable, driving Antigone on, making her as inflexible as Creon, and this conflict leads to the inevitably tragic finale.


I have long been of the view that depression is a kind of madness. I have more than twenty years of medicated and non-medicated experience of the condition, and its defining trait for me is a total loss of perspective. Small problems and sadnesses become unbearably huge, and sadness itself feels permanent. Neither is true, of course, but in the midst of the darkness, this is how it feels to me.


So, when it revealed itself this time, the loss of my dad seemed to mean that everything in my life was meaningless. After all, if this is where we all ultimately arrive, where is the reason in the Sisyphean life?


Antigone asks Ismene to "Leave me alone with my own madness!" and later the Chorus says that "the grip of his [Love's] madness spares not god or man". These two lines I have recently turned over and over in my thinking. In the middle of grief, a kind of madness had come over me, blocking out hope.


Antigone's later eagerness for death has a deeper resonance as a result of this idea. But the latter quotation explains that madness often comes from love. Antigone's mental health crisis (god, that reads inelegantly) comes about because she loves, and loves deeply.


For me, this has been problematic because my dad and I had a very difficult relationship, often uncommunicative, often abusive and seldom affectionate. I had not understood how I should grieve this giant figure in my life, but with whom I had felt so little connection. I mean, how is that done exactly? I had no answer.


All I can come up with is the idea - uncomfortable to me - that at a level I am not yet conscious of, I loved my dad. As my brother told me on the day of the funeral: "He was my dad. You only get one."


I hope to be better soon. I am better today than I was yesterday. This is a difficult process, and I am crying as I type these words, trying to understand the madness which has overcome me in the last month.


Antigone's grief led to her anger and destruction; but it underlined the truth that there can be no grief without love - albeit with the caveat that there are many different kinds of love. When I figure out the kind of love my dad and I shared, perhaps my mind will find some peace.


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