30 June 2011
29 June 2011
27 June 2011
26 June 2011
25 June 2011
23 June 2011
22 June 2011
21 June 2011
20 June 2011
C.S. Lewis was an Irish writer, part of the Inklings Group of writers which included Tolkien. He wrote the Narnia series, he was a devout Christian. He married late in life, loved fiercely and then watched his wife die of cancer. He wrote a slim volume, A Grief Observed, pouring his guts on empty notebooks, laying bare his soul.
"I thought I could describe a state; make a map of sorrow. Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state but a process."
No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear... At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says (3).
What pitiable cant to say, ‘She will live forever in my memory!’Live? That is exactly what she won’t do (20).
…there is a spread over everything a vague sense of wrongness, of something amiss... Will there come a time when I no longer ask why the world is like a mean street, because I shall take the squalor as normal? Does grief finally subside into boredom tinged by faint nausea (35)?
Having got once through death, to come back and then, at some later date, have all her dying to do over again? They call Stephen the first martyr. Hadn’t Lazarus the rawer deal (41)?
The other end I had in view turns out to have been based on a misunderstanding. I thought I could describe a state; make a map of sorrow. Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state but a process. It needs not a map but a history… (59)
Did you know, dear, how much you took away with you when you left? You have stripped me even of my past, even of the things we never shared. I was wrong to say the stump was recovering from the pain of the amputation. I was deceived because it has so many ways to hurt me that I discover them only one by one (61).
Can a mortal ask questions which God finds unanswerable? Quite easily, I should think. All nonsense questions are unanswerable. How many hours are there in a mile? Is yellow square or round? Probably half the questions we ask – half our great theological and metaphysical problems – are like that (69).
No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.
At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.
There are moments, most unexpectedly, when something inside me tries to assure me that I don't really mind so much, not so very much, after all. Love is not the whole of a man's life. I was happy before I ever met H. I've plenty of what are called 'resources'. People get over these things. Come, I shan't do so badly. One is ashamed to listen to this voice but it seems for a little to be making out a good case. Then comes a sudden jab of red-hot memory and all this 'commonsense' vanishes like an ant in the mouth of a furnace ... ( )
Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not 'So there's no God after all,' but 'So this is what God's really like. Deceive yourself no longer.'
But I find that this question, however important it may be in itself, is not after all very important in relation to grief. Suppose that the earthly lives she and I shared for a few years are in reality only the basis for, or prelude to, or earthly appearance of, two unimaginable, supercosmic, eternal somethings. Those somethings could be pictures as spheres or globes. Where the plane of Nature cuts through them — that is, in earthly life — they appear as two circles (circles are slices of spheres). Two circles that touched. But those two circles, above all the point at which they touched, are the very thing I am mourning for, homesick for, famished for. You tell me, 'she goes on.' But my heart and body are crying out, come back, come back. Be a circle, touching my circle on the plane of Nature. But I know this is impossible. I know that the thing I want is exactly the thing I can never get. The old life, the jokes, the drinks, the arguments, the lovemaking, the tiny, heartbreaking commonplace. On any view whatever, to say, 'H. is dead,' is to say, 'All that is gone.' It is a part of the past. And the past is the past and that is what time means, and time itself is one more name for death, and Heaven itself is a state where 'the former things have passed away.'
What chokes every prayer and every hope is the memory of all the prayers H. and I offered and all the false hopes we had. Not hopes raised merely by our own wishful thinking, hopes encouraged, even forced upon us, by false diagnoses, by X-ray photographs, by strange remissions, by one temporary recovery that might have ranked as a miracle. Step by step we were 'led up the garden path.' Time after time, when He seemed most gracious He was really preparing the next torture.
And grief still feels like fear. Perhaps, more strictly, like suspense. Or like waiting; just hinging about waiting for something to happen. It gives life a permanently provisional feeling. It doesn't seem worth starting anything. I can't settle down. I yawn, I fidget, I smoke too much. Up till this I always had too little time. Now here is nothing but time. Almost pure time, empty successiveness.
... Something quite unexpected has happened. It came this morning early. For various reasons, not in themselves at all mysterious, my heart was lighter than it had been for many weeks. For one thing, I suppose I am recovering physically from a good deal of mere exhaustion. ... And suddenly, at the very moment when, so far, I mourned H. least, I remembered her best. Indeed, it was something (almost) better than memory; an instantaneous, unanswerable impression. To say it was like a meeting would be going too far. Yet there was that in it which tempts one to use those words. It was as if the lifting of the sorrow removed a barrier.
Why has no one told me these things? How easily I might have misjudged another man in the same situation? I might have said, 'He's got over it. He's forgotten his wife,' when the truth was, 'He remembers her better because he has partly got over it.'
Such was the fact. And I believe I can make sense of it. You can't see anything properly while your eyes are blurred with tears. You can't, in most things, get what you want if you want it too desperately: anyway, you can't get the best out of it. 'Now! Let's have a real good talk' reduces everyone to silence. 'I must get a good sleep tonight' ushers in hours of wakefulness. Delicious drinks are wasted on a really ravenous thirst. Is it similarly the very intensity of the longing that draws the iron curtain, that makes us feel we are staring into a vacuum when we think about our dead? 'Them as asks' (at any rate 'as asks too importunately') don't get. Perhaps can't.
... How far have I got? Just as far, I think, as a widower of another sort who would stop, leaning on his spade, and say in answer to the inquiry, 'Thank'ee. Mustn't grumble. I do miss her something dreadful. But they say these things are sent to try us.' We have come to the same point; he with his spade, and I, who am not now much good at digging, with my own instrument. But of course, one must take 'sent to try us' in the right way. God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn't. In this trial He makes us occupy the dock, the witness box and the bench all at once. He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize that fact was to knock it down. ...
‘Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything’
‘There is one place where her absence comes locally home to me, and it is a place i can’t avoid. I mean my own body. It had such a different importance while it was the body of H’s lover. Now its like an empty house’
"For in grief nothing 'stays put.' One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats. Am I going in circles, or dare I hope I am on a spiral? But if a spiral, am I going up or down it?"
"Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape. As I've already noted, not every bend does. Sometimes the surprise is the opposite one; you are presented with exactly the same sort of country you thought you had left behind miles ago. That is when you wonder whether the valley isn't a circular trench. But it isn't. There are partial recurrences, but the sequence doesn't repeat."
19 June 2011
18 June 2011
“Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends." ~ Joan Didion.
17 June 2011
15 June 2011
14 June 2011
12 June 2011
09 June 2011
08 June 2011
07 June 2011
03 June 2011
Julia and I drove down after seeing Marilyn to spend the weekend in Indianapolis to watch Matthew graduate from 8th grade and Sycamore School (the same grammar school that Cheshire went to) and to visit with a few friends. It is a long drive but easy tonight avoiding Chicago as much as I could and hitting very little traffic. We arrived while our hosts were picking up family (including Cheshire) from the airport and as it is very late for Julia, she is beside me in bed trying to sleep while I type. This was so much our nightly pattern in the fall -- her trying to sleep while I typed or read for my course work.
Now, not so much and I am hoping she falls asleep before people come home. She will be better for it tomorrow morning.
It has been a strange week. I’ve been very diligent about constructing my massive chrono-log of all of our family papers. The papers are from boxes and file drawers that I’ve already gone through and thrown away much. I’ve decided to put all of our papers -- David’s, mine, Cheshire’s, and a few of Julia’s as well -- into a folders marked by years. I don’t know whether it is the best organization but because our lives have been so intertwined, it is hard to separate many things. This way, someone -- that distant, future descendant I see in my mind’s eye -- will be able to look at a particular year and see what each of us was doing -- David’s publications, a bit of my work, Cheshire’s school work -- plus a few letters written to us, some Christmas cards, and maybe a flier for a house sale or the program for a play. Some years have my old journals tucked into them. I want to make this an intentional savings -- baggage to be sure, but if I am going to carry it around for the rest of my life, I want to know that I have arranged it so that someone will be able to look at it and get a feel for our lives. I have longed for such a record from my family of origin who did not leave any record outside of snap shots and certificates. No one even saved letters, or no one wrote letters. And I have always wanted more. And I figure that if I want more, there will be someone with enough of my DNA one day who will feel the same.
But it is slow going, all this filing, and it stirs up so much emotion, more emotion this time as I handle the papers for a second time and put pieces that David saved together with what I saved. I will have to go through all of the material another time before I am through -- go through each year and organize the materials a bit -- do I dare think that I will leave notes? Maybe I will identify people in photographs -- already I look at photos of David’s relatives and I am not sure who some of them are. Was I ever sure?
And so this work, which feels very right and correct to do now, occupies my time. That and the garden are my tasks of the days and nights. The work draw out emotion and memory, leaving me vulnerable and raw. I am less presentable, less able to blend into the traffic of my days.
And movies. We saw Kung Fu Panda 2 on the weekend, and then I watched The King’s Speech last night. Both, in their own ways, are very intense and very personal for me/us.
Kung Fu Panda 2 is all about adoption and coming to terms with Po’s early life. Julia liked the movie. She recognized that Po, like herself, was adopted in China. She also recognized that the bad guy, Shen, needed family therapy. On the way home, she suggested that Shen and his parents should have seen Marilyn -- and really, Shen could be diagnosed with a good case of RAD. And Julia started to ask about a “China Mommy” for the first time. She did not want to talk much about it -- stopping me from doing more than answering her direct question of whether she had a China Mommy, but it seems to be the beginning of an self-awareness that I have worried she might never have.
And then, last night, The King’s Speech. It is a good movie and I am so glad that I waited this long before seeing it. It is painful and brave and beautifully done and well acted. It was intense. I cried for the king’s pain and his triumph. I have not had to be as brave as he needed to be but I understand the feelings in a profoundly personal way. I was very happy that they made this movie because this is how so many stutterers feel, feel every day. We may not need to address a nation on the brink of war, but ordering a dozen bagels at the corner deli can take just as much courage.
And then, this evening, driving from Madison to Indy, Julia played with her leapster in the back while I listened to Joan Didion’s “The Year of Magical Thinking.” It is the personal account of the year after her husband’s death. I had read it a few years ago and been stunned by its beauty and insight. I thought about it constantly when Julia and I were in England and my own year had begun. I thumbed through it often after a friend sent it to me last fall, never able to read through it completely but now and again, searching for passages that I remembered. Now, today, listening, I was again struck by the vulnerability and gut wrenching pain of the writing. Listening to every page instead of thumbing through looking for paragraphs, I was aware of the repetitions, the circlings around and around the same scene, the same words, the same facts -- looking from different angles, or the same angle at slightly different times. I too have scenes that I play over and over in my head. I see that process as my grief and as hers.
The opening words which I cannot quote here but go something like -- you sit down for dinner and everything changes in quite ordinary moments, echo through this last year for me. Yes, yes, yes -- I want to leap through the pages, I want to call Didion and tell her that I too . .. I too was in the midst of an ordinary day, a day during which David was getting better, when he died. Suddenly. Unexpectedly. Without advanced notice.
And like Didion’s husband, of course, there was notice, but it makes no difference. There can be no notice. The magical thinking is wanting him to come home. Still, I know. There I times and parts of myself that believes that David will be home soon.
I remember that when I read the book for the first time, I was left unhappy. I don’t know what I expected but I saw her as not having “recovered” after the year. She was as miserable at the end of the year, as she was the day after her husband died. I have not gotten to the end this time -- I will listen on my way home to Madison. When I read it the first time, I wanted the cure, the revelation that one day she was whole and happy again. These days, I understand too much of where she was at the end of her year. I am no where near whole and happy and it is almost 11 months.
For myself, the shock has worn thin. The denial may go very deep, but my rational brain and conscious spirit is intent on healing from the loss, not preserving some nostalgic sadness. I am no longer surprised by days so blue that it takes all of my energy to plod through until it is time to go to bed. On those days, if I can do useful tasks, some at least, I am very satisfied. I wonder how long those days will continue, they are less now than 10 months ago. I expect they will diminish further. I do not expect to ever be completely free of them. But each is a step, and I feel at times acutely aware of the process. And I grow more in spirit, I learn more about myself and my journey, and I learn as well to celebrate the steps and the journey. And for this, and not only this, I have great gratitude.