In the face of a dear one's death, Deborah Siegel contemplates when the written word is, and isn't, enough.
Last week, I lost a dear family friend. David, 69, was a jovial, generous man, kind in spirit and magnanimous in heart. He was a beloved ob/gyn, though not my own, and he helped me tremendously during my recent fertility journey, taking all my questions and calls. I'd known David all my life. He'd gone to medical school with my father. The two men and their wives have been close friends and neighbors since long before I was conceived.
David died suddenly on a Saturday while his wife was out doing an errand. It was either an aneurysm or heart attack, we don't know. The suddenness and sadness of it haunts me. A too-early death will do that, as we greedy mortals never know what to make of the gaping hole where a loved one's vibrant life once stood. As usual, since I don't know how to process this absence, I find myself taking to the page.
It's a habit of mine. When loved ones die, I write. Blog posts and eulogies. (Here's one for Grandma Marge
, another for Grandma Pearl
.) I write in an effort, perhaps, to make myself feel, because my default response, after the initial shock and lament, is to freeze, go numb, shut down. If depression is the thinking person's response, at times, to life, perhaps numbness is the natural human response to death. How else are we supposed to make sense or meaning of "here today/gone tomorrow," knowing full well that it could have easily been (and will one day be) ourselves who disappear?
My intention with this post is not to tackle thorny issues of theology, metaphysics, epistemology, or ontology, but merely to offer a meditation on why we who are writers gravitate toward the written word to make sense of loss that feels...unreal.
It's been a week, really, of touching loss over here. On Monday, I lured a dear newer friend, one who has been recovering from the loss of a pregnancy, out for a walk with me. My friend hadn't been doing well (understandably) and I wanted to lend an ear. I worried, a bit, that my capacity to comfort may be impeded by the fact that I had to bring my twin babies along for the stroll.
When I myself was preoccupied with having a child, friends with babies made me break out in hives of envy. So I couldn't help experiencing a tinge of the guilt of the living--in this case, the living being done by my own baby twins. David had a son my age and a daughter slightly older, and with them, too, I've found myself feeling a tinge of the there-but-for-the-grace-of-fill-in-the-blank-with-what-have-you go my own father and I. With both of these losses, I find myself grabbing hold, with renewed gusto, of the living, of the relationships that sustain my own life. I feel small for doing that, for it does little to help David's family, or my friend. On the other hand, what better way to acknowledge a life lost than to mourn them while vowing to fully, graciously, and consciously embody your own.
Words go far, but not far enough, I often fear, when using them to memorialize or even process a death. No matter where that death falls on the spectrum of life, the loss of potential, of a chance to be born or a chance to grow old and watch one's grandchildren come of age, is a silence so thick it leaves me choking on air.
And so dear She Writers, I ask you: How have you used words to comprehend or mark the loss that is death? Have such efforts been useful, futile, sustaining? I'd love to hear.
This post is dedicated to David Zbaraz (ז״ל alah b’shalom) his wife Deety, their children, and their grandchildren.
For a great book on writing and loss, see Louise DeSalvo's Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our....