Sometimes, when I read The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, the writing is so true, the experience of death so familiar that I feel shivery and sick. I remember a similar feeling of sitting outside the Denver airport in July and wanting to fall down and never get up, to melt into the sidewalk, to crumble into the stones…
There is a new advertisement on our carts at work for some random real estate company with smiling photos of either a man or a woman looking right at you… The man, from far away, with his greying mustache and his big grin, looks like him. I don’t think I can handle seeing it, even a glimpse was almost too much today. He’s not here. Nobody here knows him. He will never be here again.
This past Valentines Day didn’t make me sad because I was single. It made me sad because it was another holiday in which I had to face the absence of my dad. For as long as I can remember, my dad would always give me cheesy valentines gifts, even after I turned twenty-two. I remember often worrying about it because I could never stop him from buying a box of chocolates here, a little stuffed animal there, a mug with hearts painted on it, and I worried about our expenses. Still, it was nice to know I could always count a little gift or card each Valentines day, even after my dad moved away.
My friend wants to take me to a Rockies game this spring, but I don’t know how that will go for me. Baseball was such a special activity that I got to share almost always solely with my dad and my grandpa, both of whom are gone now. I don’t know if it will be better or worse that I’ll be in a new city, watching a new team, instead of the beloved Orioles of my childhood, my dad’s childhood, my grandfather’s hometown. I miss Baltimore now more than I ever thought I would.
In Didion’s account of the year following her husband’s death, she meticulously records the details of the night he died… Do I have to do that now, before I lose it? I can’t even face writing it down, some of the memories are still too raw. Since she keeps dates in the book, I try to place my grief own timeline beside hers (which, when you think about it, is kind of absurd). …Should I be writing more? Should I be able to face the specifics now? What if I forget? What will I forget?
“…We [cannot] know ahead of the fact (and here lies the heart of the difference between grief as we imagine it and grief as it is) the unending absence that follows, the void, the very opposite of meaning, the relentless succession of moments during which we will confront the experience of meaninglessness itself.” -Didion, emphasis mine.
Sometimes I wish he had been a writer, so that I, like Didion, could sit and reread the words of the one I had lost. Or so that I, like Christopher Tolkien, could be left with an entire world of my father’s thoughts in published novels, half-finished manuscripts, and fragments of verse and story.
What did he leave behind so that I could find him again?
I think one of the ways I feel closer to my dad is through the music I know he loved. I forgot to mention in my last post another aspect of Tolkien’s world that connects to my grief journey, the music. I suppose I didn’t bring it up before because it’s not exactly Tolkien, but it is Tolkien-inspired. My dad loved listening to the soundtracks to the movies. He really loved the song from the credits of The Return of the King, “Into the West,” by Annie Lennox, Fran Walsh, and Howard Shore. As I mentioned in the post, my mom passed away recently after The Two Towers came out in theaters. I think my dad and I both escaped through these movies, and when we first heard the song in that next year, it was a almost form of catharsis. I’m sure it made him think about my mom. I like to think it gave him hope…
We used the lyrics, amended a little, in the memorial booklet made for his funeral:
Don’t say, “We have come now to the end.”
White shores are calling,
You and I will meet again.
What can you see
On the horizon?
Why do the white gulls call?
Across the sea,
A pale moon rises;
The ships have come to carry you home.
And all will turn
To silver glass,
A light on the water,
All souls pass
Into the West.
I don’t know what else to say. I’ve lost my momentum, and I’ve used up all my concentration. If I wait to think of something else, I’ll never hit publish. So, I will simply quote Didion again as she expresses the emotions surrounding the end of her account of the year after her husband died:
“The craziness is receding, but no clarity is taking its place. I look for resolution and find none.”