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Life Arts

President Obama Needs to Mourn (Review essay)

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Jeffreys forewarns would-be Exquisite Witnesses to be alert to experiencing what he vividly terms Cowbells. He tells a personal story to explain his use of this term (page 5). The basic point is that the Exquisite Witness needs to be alert to how she or he is responding to the mourner. In other words, the mourner is expressing her or his feelings. As the Exquisite Witness listens attentively and empathetically, the Exquisite Witness may experience feelings in herself or himself that signal some unfinished business (i.e., unresolved mourning) from the past.

Now, regarding the work of mourning nondeath losses, such as the nondeath losses that young Barack Obama and his mother experienced, I would suggest that Susan Anderson's book THE JOURNEY FROM ABANDONMENT TO HEALING (2000) is basically about mourning nondeath losses. Even though she focuses on the experience of being abandoned by one's marital partner, or by one's lover, she is basically discussing abandonment feelings. In nondeath losses, we experience abandonment feelings. For this reason, her book can be read by anyone experiencing abandonment feelings connected with nondeath losses.

At her website, Susan Anderson, C.S.W., makes her essay "Suffering the Death of a Loved One" (2006) available. The URL for her website is In this essay, she emphasizes that mourning losses due to death is not the same as mourning nondeath losses, even though both kinds of losses involve attachment bonds.

Anderson's claim that mourning the death of a loved one (bereavement) is not the same as mourning nondeath losses strikes me as an important claim. Her efforts to explain as explicitly as she could how the two mourning processes are different helped me sort out my own experiences into the two broad categories discussed by Jeffreys, mentioned above: (1) mourning the loss due to death and (2) mourning nondeath losses.

However, Anderson herself does not explicitly discuss how mourning the death of a loved one (also known as bereavement) might be accompanied by mourning a backlog, as it were, of unresolved mourning of nondeath loss or losses.


Because Dr. Frank diagnoses GWB as suffering from megalomania, it is not surprising to find that Dr. Frank discusses mania in his book about GWB (pages 202, 232, 254). Because Dr. Frank differentiates megalomania from what I will refer to as simple mania (he refers simply to mania, without a modifying word or prefix), it is not surprising to find that Dr. Frank also works with the term manic in places in his book about Obama (pages 34, 52, 221).

However, after Dr. Frank's extensive discussion of mourning in his book about GWB, mentioned above, I was surprised to find that Dr. Frank refers to mourning only once in his book about Obama (page 97). But Dr. Frank's extensive discussion of how Obama's otherwise nurturing mother did not herself exemplify for young Barack healthy mourning about her own nondeath loss of Barack's Kenyan father or help young Barack himself learn how to mourn his nondeath loss of his father in a healthy way.

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Because Dr. Frank connects GWB's being incapable of serious mourning with his megalomania, as diagnosed by Dr. Frank, why is Dr. Frank silent about how Obama's mother evidently failed herself to engage in serious mourning her nondeath loss of Obama's father and also failed to help young Barack learn how to mourn his nondeath loss of his father in a healthy way?

I do NOT mean to suggest that President Obama suffers from the kind of megalomania that Dr. Frank diagnoses GWB as suffering from.

However, if Obama does not suffer from megalomania, does he suffer from what I referred to above as simple mania?

What I am here referring to as simple mania, to differentiate it from megalomania, may not be uncommon in American culture. See John D. Gartner's book THE HYPOMANIC EDGE: THE LINK BETWEEN (A LITTLE) CRAZINESS AND (A LOT OF) SUCCESS IN AMERICA (2005) and Peter C. Whybrow's book AMERICAN MANIA: WHEN MORE IS NOT ENOUGH (2005).

In any event, I want to quote a telling passage from Dr. Frank's book about Obama: "Still there is no question that Obama's passion lies in the drive to heal the split he sees as red and blue. And he sees speeches as transformative, no matter what actions are taken" (page 33).

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Now, if Bradshaw is correct is claiming that grief is the healing feeling, then Obama's drive to heal the split he sees as red and blue should lead him to advocate grief work, as Bradshaw does. However, instead of advocating grief work as the way to bring about healing, Obama gives big-sounding speeches that have no connection with grief work. Nevertheless, he evidently sees his big-sounding speeches as transformative, as though healing and the transformation that accompanies healing were brought about by listening to big-sounding speeches instead of by undertaking the work of mourning in a healthy way.

I know, I know, people do not live on bread alone. For the sake of discussion, I am willing to allow that certain people may find Obama's speeches uplifting and encouraging. I understand uplifting and encouraging speeches have a valid place in our public lives. But people also do not live on big-sounding speeches alone.

Besides that, I do not understand why Obama sees the split between red and blue states as something that he should work to heal. Does he really imagine that he is going to heal megalomaniacs? For understandable reasons, Obama might prefer not to be assassinated by megalomaniacs. However, it strikes me that he should undertake a policy of containment regarding the megalomaniacs not only in red states but also in other parts of the world today.

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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President Obama should stop imagining that he is g... by Thomas Farrell on Saturday, Jan 14, 2012 at 5:25:19 PM
in couseling for depression, was that you can't sa... by Richard Girard on Wednesday, Jan 18, 2012 at 4:23:33 PM
It's not easy, as you say. But that's why some peo... by Thomas Farrell on Wednesday, Jan 18, 2012 at 5:29:15 PM