Abbie, it gave me chill bumps to read about the mother keening over her lost daughter. I know that losing a child is the worst because I’ve watched what it has done to my parents and to my ex-wife’s parents (who lost a daughter to suicide).
It’s heart-breaking that you’ve never regained your brother’s trust. It takes me back, again, to what my grandmother said to me: Some things you never get over. You just learn to live with them.
Something happened tonight, an instance of a phenomenon I’ve come to think of as synchronicity. While looking through my computer for something I’d written a year or two ago, I stumbled across a PDF version of the August 2015 issue of The Sun magazine, which I briefly subscribed to but never read (in part because I had to download the magazine in a pdf format, which is a hassle). I started reading the issue and found the most amazing story — a Q&A with a man named Stephen Jenkinson (who looks a lot like Willie Nelson) conducted by a writer/photographer named Erik Hoffner. Stephen Jenkinson is a wise, shaman-esque figure whose primary message is about the North American culture’s fear and avoidance of dying, and our failure to understand life, grief and death. It stunned me — though it shouldn’t by this point, this sort of thing has happened so often through the years — how this article was precisely on the topic you wrote about (death) and the one I wrote about (grief).
I’d really like to send this article to you. (I’d link to it, but The Sun magazine doesn’t appear to be online anymore, which is a shame — it had tremendous articles like this one, and great fiction and poetry and photography. But I couldn’t access any of it from the website.) If you email me your email address, I’ll send you the PDF. Mine is firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the meantime, I’ve transcribed below the four pull-quotes from Jenkinson that were broken out from the article. I feel like he perfectly expressed the things I was bumbling around and trying to say:
“We suffer from what I’ve come to call ‘grief illiteracy.’ We have no language for what really happens, no ability to be a faithful witness, to do justice to how it feels to be dying in our time and place.”
“The dominant culture of North America is not being killed by global warming or too few whales or anything like that. It just doesn’t know how to live, how to take up the task of loving life, even how to grieve its own grievous history.”
“Death doesn’t burden your life. It animates your life. The centrality of death gives you the chance to live, because it says, ‘Here’s the bad news: It’s not going to last.’ ”
“Grief is not sadness. There’s sadness in grief, but grief is not exhausted when the sadness goes away, and it does go away, because you can only drag yourself around and rend your clothes for so long. Sadness has a shelf life, but grief endures.”
That’s barely a tip of the iceberg — the story is 10 or 12 pages of his ideas about death, life, grief and how the modern society has lost its grasp of what is real and what is important. Uncanny, the insights from this guy.
Thanks for replying to my response. Your posts seem to inspire me to write, and I consider it a great pleasure anytime we have a conversation. I’m glad to know you’ll be in Fort Worth over the weekend — Burnett park and the monument are along Seventh Street, between Lamar and Cherry streets, on the south end of downtown. I don’t know if you’re a frequent visitor to Fort Worth, but the Water Gardens, at 1502 Commerce St., a series of four water features by the famous architect Philip Johnson, is a beautiful attraction well worth seeing, and it’s very near Burnett park. I hope you enjoy your visit!