My parents had said it aloud many times, and I had shushed them.
I was guilty of sometimes thinking it.
“Just kill yourself, or get killed quickly, and end all the mayhem.”
My older brother had been barely surviving on a destructive path for so long that sometimes I wished he would just finish it off already.
Really. It just sometimes seemed the easier way for him, and for all of us.
I had no idea how much worse his death would actually make things—how alone his death would leave me, as it hastened the additional deaths that would leave me the only remaining member of my family. Read more…
In the New Yorker, Kathryn Schultz writes about two forms of loss: grief and the misplacement of everyday objects. Regarding the latter, it appears we have a tendency to lose items on a daily basis, and spend half a year over the course of our lifetimes searching for them:
Passwords, passports, umbrellas, scarves, earrings, earbuds, musical instruments, W-2s, that letter you meant to answer, the permission slip for your daughter’s field trip, the can of paint you scrupulously set aside three years ago for the touch-up job you knew you’d someday need: the range of things we lose and the readiness with which we do so are staggering. Data from one insurance-company survey suggest that the average person misplaces up to nine objects a day, which means that, by the time we turn sixty, we will have lost up to two hundred thousand things. (These figures seem preposterous until you reflect on all those times you holler up the stairs to ask your partner if she’s seen your jacket, or on how often you search the couch cushions for the pen you were just using, or on that daily almost-out-the-door flurry when you can’t find your kid’s lunchbox or your car keys.) Granted, you’ll get many of those items back, but you’ll never get back the time you wasted looking for them. In the course of your life, you’ll spend roughly six solid months looking for missing objects; here in the United States, that translates to, collectively, some fifty-four million hours spent searching a day. And there’s the associated loss of money: in the U.S. in 2011, thirty billion dollars on misplaced cell phones alone.
What they don’t tell you about death—or what you don’t really understand until it happens close to you—is how permanent it is. In the months afterward I kept thinking to myself, all right, I get it. This is too painful. Let’s just take a little break from the loss. Let’s have a weekend off. A day. Or an hour. Just one hour when it’s not true, when she is allowed to speak to me, or to rub an absent-minded hand through my hair. But the wall is high and fissureless. There are no breaks, no time-outs. The loss is final, and the you that you were with her is nowhere, gone.
– Blair Hurley, writing in LitHub, reflects on the loss of her mother, and how she found a path through grief by revisiting the opinions and notes scrawled in the margins of her mother’s books.
At The Walrus, Nancy Westaway finds comfort in the digital footprints left behind by her husband Jonathan, who died of esophageal cancer at the age of 50.
But I know I am trying to do the impossible: to reanimate the love of my life word-by-word, tweet-by-tweet, text-by-text.
At first I was uncomfortable with the online grieving. When people clicked “like” on Jon’s obit after it was posted to Facebook, it felt remote and impersonal as if someone was taking something that belonged to the kids and me. But digital death notices and online goodbyes are part of modern love. When I saw the names of people I had never met posting their condolences on a friend’s page, I understood it. When I die, I want my friends to be comforted too.
After he died, Jon’s online presence grew and then faded into the ether. Now, when I Google his name late at night, I see he has slipped further and further down in the search results.
Sometimes I forward emails from Jon’s account to mine to keep track of something important. And even though I know I’ve just sent myself an email from his account, my heart still leaps when I see his name appear in my inbox.
The American poet Miller Williams — father of alt-country singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams — passed away on January 1. In this interview with Paste Magazine, Lucinda Williams reflects on her father’s influence in her life and on her work. Not only did he encourage her to pursue music, his words inspired many of her songs.
Lucinda Williams clutched the receiver and hung on her father’s every word. Three years ago, the Grammy-winning, critically acclaimed songstress had dialed Miller Williams—her mentor, toughest critic and dad—for a bit of consolation after attending an old friend’s funeral. Miller’s words weren’t so much a comfort as an inspiration.
“He told me ‘a precious thing’s temporary nature just makes it more precious,’ and ‘the saddest joys are the richest ones,’” Lucinda recalls of the genius in her father’s offhand remarks. “It was so profound that I jotted it down and eventually wrote a song about it.”
That tune—aptly titled “Temporary Nature (Of Any Precious Thing)”—is featured on the second disc of Williams’ new double album, Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone. Over the song’s pensive guitar and church choir organ, Lucinda sings that impromptu mantra from her father, holding a quavering high note as she comes to the word “precious”—evoking the trembling grip of anyone who struggles to let go.
The sorrow and anger that followed Kate’s death, however, pale next to the terrible yearning. “Sometimes I feel panic sweeping over me,” I wrote to a friend, “and I’m so overwhelmed with yearning for Kate that I don’t know how I’ll manage.”
I searched for “yearning” and “grief” on the Internet and found a Harvard Medical School study that concluded yearning after a loss is far more debilitating than sadness or depression. The study included people who had lost a husband or wife, a parent, or a brother or sister. I wrote the author, Dr. Holly Prigerson at Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, to ask why parents who had lost children weren’t included. Losing a child, she told me, is so many “orders of magnitude worse” that it couldn’t be meaningfully compared to other losses.
On his third birthday without Kate, Steve and I were standing in our kitchen, crying, when he choked out these words: “It’s not that I want her back. It’s not that I need her back. It’s that I have to have her back.”
GROSS: What are some of the most painful things that have happened to you that you’ve ended up making jokes about on stage?
Ms. RIVERS: Oh, where do you start? My husband’s suicide.
Ms. RIVERS: Some man, 60 years old, that couldn’t take the business and went and killed himself. How do you deal with that? How do you deal with that when you’ve got a 16-year-old daughter who gets the call? Huh?
And I’ll tell you how you deal with that. You go through it, and you make jokes about it, and you continue with it, and you move forward. That’s how you do it, or that’s how I do it. Everyone handles things differently.
The fact that everyone else here has VIP status grimly similar to mine is the lone saving grace; the prospect of experiencing this stroll down waking nightmare lane with tuned-out schoolkids or spectacle-seekers would be too much. There are FDNY T-shirts and search-and-rescue sweatshirts and no one quite makes eye contact with anyone else, and that’s just fine. I think now of every war memorial I ever yawned through on a class trip, how someone else’s past horror was my vacant diversion and maybe I learned something but I didn’t feel anything. Everyone should have a museum dedicated to the worst day of their life and be forced to attend it with a bunch of tourists from Denmark. Annotated divorce papers blown up and mounted, interactive exhibits detailing how your mom’s last round of chemo didn’t take, souvenir T-shirts emblazoned with your best friend’s last words before the car crash. And you should have to see for yourself how little your pain matters to a family of five who need to get some food before the kids melt down. Or maybe worse, watch it be co-opted by people who want, for whatever reason, to feel that connection so acutely.
Tom Molanphy earned his MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Montana. He freelances for 10Best/Travel Media Group at USA Today and teaches creative writing, composition and journalism at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. This essay previously appeared in “Loud Memories Of A Quiet Life,” published by OutPost19, and our thanks to Molanphy for allowing us to reprint it here.
Many things conspired
To tell the whole story.
Not only did they touch me,
Or my hand touched them:
That they were a part
Of my being,
They were so alive with me
That they lived half my life
And will die half my death
– from “Ode to Things” by Pablo Neruda
It’s dark and quiet in my brother’s closet. Brian, my other brother, rummages through bathroom drawers, rattling painkillers in their bottles. He’s checking for used razors, combs, brushes — anything with hair or skin or “part of Paul.” My Dad, on his knees in the living room, jimmies the lock on a long, black trunk, a keepsake of Paul’s from our Uncle Jack. He clears his throat in the deep, rumbling way he does before diving into a tough job. We’re each looking for what to take and what to leave. Read more…