Today would have been Tom Ricketson, Anon’s son, my stepson’s, 40th birthday. He died in a fire in a nightclub in Siem Riep Cambodia in 2014 at the end of the his first big travel adventure. In the images above from 1999, 17 year old Tom is on his way to his school formal in his dad’s dinner suit. An exceedingly handsome young man.
This from Joan Didion’s book ” The Year of Magical Thinking”, the book she wrote after the sudden death of her husband John Gregory Dunne
Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We anticipate (we know) that someone close to us could die, but we do not look beyond the few days or weeks that immediately follow such an imagined death. We misconstrue the nature of even those few days or weeks. We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock. We do not expect this shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind. We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe that their husband is about to return and need his shoes. In the version of grief we imagine, the model will be “healing”. A certain forward movement will prevail. The worst days will be the earliest days.
We imagine that the moment to most severely test us will be the funeral, after which this hypothetical healing will take place. When we anticipate the funeral we wonder about failing “to get through it”rise to the occasion, exhibit the “strength” that invariably gets mentioned as the correct response to death. We anticipate needing to steel ourselves for the moment: will I be able to greet people, will I be able to leave the scene, will I be able even to get dressed that day?
We have no way of knowing that this will not be the issue. We have no way of knowing that the funeral itself will be anodyne, a kind of narcotic regression in which we are wrapped in the care of others and the gravity and meaning of the occasion. Nor can we 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 meaninglessness itself.
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