Monthly Archives: January 2010

A World of Grief

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“When someone you love dies, you don’t lose them all at once. You lose them in pieces over time, like how the mail stops coming.”  Simon Birch

I have come to the conclusion that, once you lose someone, your life continues on in a world of grief.  Each person grieves in a different way, dealing with the loss, and they grieve differently over time.  It never ends, though.  The tears may end, the ache may dull, but we don’t wake up one day and suddenly find ourselves living the same life we had before death entered it.

I had friends who lost parents when they were quite young, but old enough to remember.  I always wonder how often they think of their parents, how life is after.  I wonder if it’s a daily shadow, something that follows them everywhere, or something that comes to them at big moments, or perhaps small ones, now and again.  Do you always miss your dad, even after your mother remarries?  Or does his birthday sting, but most days go on without him?  The first person I actually knew who died was the son of one of my mother’s friends.  The first person who died that I loved was my aunt. 

I made my way through a large part of my childhood without feeling the emptiness of death.  When it came, I didn’t know what to do or how to cope.  I wonder if anyone ever does.  I do know that I didn’t mourn then, that the death stayed fresh with me for years, until I was able to begin to cry and grieve for her.  Now she crosses my mind often, but not daily.  I still feel an overwhelming hollowness, a numb day of near sleep walking on the anniversary of her death.  It has been ten years, and I think that I have begun to let her rest in peace in my mind, but things are not ever the same.  And she was only my aunt.  My mother lost a sister, my grandmother a daughter, my cousins a mother. 

Today I made a trip to Goodwill in an effort to clean out my life.  If I am not using things, there is no reason someone else shouldn’t.  It’s a mixture of cleaning and charity.  I finally pulled a large box of recipes out from under my bed and brought it with.  The heavy box literally contains hundreds of recipe cards and is one of two things I received after my uncle died.  My mother, who has lost two siblings, does not talk about death.  She doesn’t talk about the brother and sister she lost.  This made her giving me his possession all the more meaningful.  I sorted through all of the cards right after I got them.  I pulled out dozens that I have not used, but someday might.  And then the box went under my bed.  I stubbed my toe on it, considered throwing it away, but I’ve had it for more than a year.  It’s like his mutt of a dog.  No one really wants it because it’s a burden, a little weird and impractical, but it’s his, so we hang on to it.  We love them because he did.  I tried to make a healthy decision and start a healthy process of letting go, so dropped the collection off for someone else to venture through.  And then I cried.

I didn’t know my uncle well.  I knew that he loved his fish and flowers, proudly caring for them.  He loved my grandmother and was her constant companion.  He lived a hard life of addiction and harder one of sobriety.  He talked endlessly, about anything.  He endured a long, painful death, but it was still too soon.  As I left his box behind, I felt a sense of betrayal, of abandonment.  I cried the entire way home, knowing I did the right thing, but wishing I hadn’t.  I would never use the cards, but they were a little piece of him that I had, a link to him. 

It’s best that I let that bit of him go.  It’s not really him, anyway.  There are many more things that remind me of him, more appropriately.  It just made me realize that grieving never ends.  My grandmother and her sister just lost their brother this week.  They lost a sister a few years ago, leaving them in the middle of one round of mourning and beginning another.  It’s a process that goes on until we die ourselves.  We are always with the memories of our lost one, always with their death, always without them, always a piece of them.  The world will always be one without them, one of mourning.  That does not mean that there isn’t joy in that world, that mourning does not also include rejoicing in their memory.  It just means that grief changes, evolves, and continues on in different ways.  It’s just like us. 

“The deep pain that is felt at the death of every friendly soul arises from the feeling that there is in every individual something which is inexpressible, peculiar to him alone, and is, therefore, absolutely and irretrievably lost.”  –Arthur Schopenhauer

“Dump Me In The River”

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“Boy, when you’re dead, they really fix you up.  I hope to hell when I do die somebody has sense enough to just dump me in the river or something.  Anything except sticking me in a goddam cemetery.  People coming and putting a bunch of flowers on your stomach on Sunday, and all that crap.  Who wants flowers when you’re dead?  Nobody.”  —The Catcher in the Rye 

Despite, or perhaps due to, his reclusive life, J.D. Salinger is still a fascinating piece of the literary world.  His death is tragic because, though he lived a long life, he is one of the eternal “what if?” writers.  This is typically ascribed to the young who are just beginning to grow into their talent, who are rising into fame.  He, however, showed his capability.  He shared his talent.  He changed American literature.  And then he stopped.  He pulled the plug on what may have been a prolific, lengthy, lucrative career.  He took himself out of the spotlight.  In a society that craves its fifteen minutes of fame, that will go to any length to achieve “celebrity,” he literally ran and hid from it.

The more I learn of his personal life, the more I see that he probably is not someone to look up to and idolize.  However, reading The Catcher in the Rye my Junior year of high school completely changed me as a reader and writer.  There are a handful of books that have made this kind of impact on me through the years, but the book turned on a light.  The distinct, engaging and painful, awkward voice he created for Holden was unlike anything I had ever read before.  He spoke to me in a way no narrator or character ever had.  As a moody teenager, he said what I thought, articulated so much of the frustration and angst I had swirling around in my sixteen year-old mind.  His voice and style is still something that writers are compared to, a “modern-day J.D. Salinger” being one of the biggest compliments an author can have printed on their book jacket.  From A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius to Choke, the icon Salinger created echoes through literature that followed.  Both of the aforementioned books I love, mostly because of their narrators, strongly reminiscent of Holden.

On top of changing the way that I look at literature and, in turn, writing, The Catcher in the Rye strikes me as classic, as so loved, because of what Salinger sees in kids growing up, and grown-ups who still feel like kids.  Holden’s aching desire to protect the innocents, clearly because he has grown out of that stage, struck such a chord with me at sixteen, and does now at twenty-four.  I watch my younger brothers, both now in their twenties, and I want to protect them from everything.  I refuse to think that they struggle with anything more difficult than who to invite to their birthday party or what video game to buy.  Forget about love and girls and stress or alcohol or drugs or depression.  Even as I write that, it seems so absurd.  I doubt that I’ll ever see them as anything but little boys, ones that I was charged to protect the days that they were born.

There is so, so much more that still lives in my mind, quotes and ideas that woke me up almost a decade ago.  I have read some of his other writing, and enjoyed it, but nothing has had the impact that Catcher had.  For the ways that I grew, the ideas he inspired, and the love that he kindled, I am forever indebted to Mr. Salinger.  I’m sure this is the last thing that he would want, one to shrug off fame and adulation, but with his passing, Mr. Salinger is reminding us all what we loved about his art.  While he may have wanted to slip quietly off into the next life, it is impossible to ignore what he did in this one.  I only hope that he can forgive us for all the flowers on his grave.

“There is a marvelous peace in not publishing. It’s peaceful. Still. Publishing is a terrible invasion of my privacy. I like to write. I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure.”  –J.D. Salinger

Betting on 2010

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“New Year’s eve is like every other night; there is no pause in the march of the universe, no breathless moment of silence among created things that the passage of another twelve months may be noted; and yet no man has quite the same thoughts this evening that come with the coming of darkness on other nights.”  ~Hamilton Wright Mabie

2010.  A new year has begun.  I have not written yet, which is less disappointing than I thought it would be.  There has been a lot that has happened and inspired me to write, but I don’t feel the need to berate myself for not writing.  Perhaps 2010 will be a more forgiving year than 2009.  One can only hope.

This year began in spectacular fashion.  On a cold, clear night, under a blue moon, I welcomed a new decade surrounded by friends.  No matter how cliché, it truly is a special thing to think of the year starting with a blue moon.  It shone brightly, lighting our walks to and from the bar.  It heard our laughter and listened to our excitement.  It saw us look to the next year with hope that it would be better than the last.  Not that 2009 was all terrible, but the world as a whole has seen better days.  Very few would say it was the best year of their lives.  I would not be among them.  After leaving my family behind and returning to an empty apartment, I was exhausted and content to relax and enjoy a quiet night.  I think it would have been nice and nothing I would regret, but I’m glad that I opted for a  little more excitement.  I spent the evening with girls that I love and am loved by.  I spent it laughing so hard I could hardly catch my breath, working my core harder than any workout.  I spent it surrounded by warmth and joy and people who know me at a time when I forget who I used to be.  I spent it with friends.  As the sparkling ball descended on television, we turned down the volume and rang in 2010 with Journey.  Nothing could capture the new year, our optimism and hope, our faith that this would be better, than singing at the top of our lungs, “Don’t stop believin’!” 

Since that night, the year has been good and bad, joyous and tragic, as all other years before it, and all years that will follow.  I still hold out hope that it will be a better year.  It has to be.  Or, rather, I have to hope.  If we didn’t hope, we wouldn’t have a reason to wake up, to do the things that perhaps did not end well before, that disappointed and frustrated us last year, hoping that this time it will be better.  Hope is the only reason the human race continues.  Hope is a powerful thing, bred into us.  It’s the magic of New Year’s Eve.  We all need new starts, second (or third) chances.  We all need clean slates, but they are only useful if we have the hope, the confidence, the faith that this time, we might do better.  We hope that next year, we might not need them.  We hope that instead of rushing to start over and put the year behind us, we will wish it a fond farewell and hope that the next year will be just as good, because it couldn’t possible be better.

This image of persisting hope appeared again in my life today.  Today we went to the casino.  It’s interesting to see the crowd that gathers around the flashing lights and card tables on a rainy Monday afternoon.  It’s a humorous and tragic sight through the smoke and slots.  But no matter who they are, where they come from, what they own or owe or have, they all come with hope.  No one gambles without hoping to win.  They may try to keep a level head, accept losses and limit the damage, but they would not play unless they hoped to come out ahead.  You don’t try to lose.  You do it because maybe, perhaps, things will turn out better when you leave than they were when you entered.  You hope that this is your lucky day. 

That’s the thrill of gambling and the new year.  It’s the hope for a win. 

“Working hard to get my fill/ Everybody wants a thrill/ Payin’ anything to roll the dice/ Just one more time/ Some will win, some will lose/ Some were born to sing the blues… Don’t stop believin’/ Hold on to that feelin’…” –Journey