Today is the ten year anniversary of my father’s death, and I can’t believe it’s been ten years. In January it will be eighteen years since my mother died. Ten and eighteen years sounds so enormously and unfathomably long…but in some ways it feels like no time has passed at all.
The new YA novel I’m writing is also partly about a teen coping with grief (I guess that’s my literary territory…) But lately I’ve been thinking about how no matter what age we are, grief makes us all adolescents. It strips us bare, down to the essentials; it takes away everything that we thought we knew about ourselves, everything that we thought we believed. After my father died I felt like I’d lost myself; for a long time afterward I didn’t know who I was anymore, or what I hoped for.
William Maxwell‘s mother died in the flu epidemic of 1918, when he was 10. Sixty-two years later he published So Long See You Tomorrow, a beautiful collection of connected, autobiographical stories. In this section he writes about his mother’s death:
I couldn’t understand how it had happened to us. It seemed like a mistake. And mistakes ought to be rectified, only this one couldn’t be. Between the way things used to be and the way they were now was a void that couldn’t be crossed. I had to find an explanation other than the real one, which was that we were no more immune to misfortune than anybody else, and the idea that kept recurring to me…was that I had inadvertently walked through a door that I shouldn’t have gone through and couldn’t get back to the place I hadn’t meant to leave.
The strange thing about grief is that you know you can never go through that door again, but you still keep trying.