Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Memories Unspoken

Within a day of returning home from Thanksgiving with my in-laws, I received two emails from friends offering holiday solace and expressing the hope that our dinner had at least been filled with stories and memories of our son.


Not a word, with one exception: He did come up in the context of a story told by his twin brother.

What was that, that reluctance to name the one person who was foremost in everyone's thoughts? I know that he wasn't forgotten, but the jovial insistence on behaving as if all were as usual only enhanced my feelings of sadness and isolation. In the absence of conversation about the person never absent from my thoughts, I found that I had hardly a word to say.

Such an odd disjunction. My in-laws are the steady family of churchgoers, those with a lifetime of committment to religious community behind them. But it's me, the one with the disjointed history of religious engagement and observance, the one with the family whose narrative defies that of any soap opera, who longs for ritual and articulation.

But it wasn't my home, and so I skipped even my usual toast to Digory Priest, my Mayflower ancestor, knowing that one toast might lead to another, or to an atmosphere of "should we say something?"

The silence made things so much worse. For me, anyway. (I do know that in grief one can only speak for oneself.)


The first draft of this entry turned into something of a rant, targeting the inadequacies of everyone involved. Including, yes, myself. Probably more harmful than helpful. Perhaps instead I should just offer what I would try as a hostess under similar circumstanes. From a practical standpoint, what might have helped?

An advance phone call, I think, asking what might be done to honor the empty place at the table and maybe bring us some comfort. Along with an acceptance of the reality that comfort might be a hollow word. Even better, knowing how many such decisions have to be tackled by the heartbroken immediate family on a daily basis, a phone call offering a plan -- a plan to which we could have acquiesced, or which we could have rejected -- would have been most welcome. A simple acknowledgment of the difficulties of the holiday season, a suggestion for consciously incorporating the new reality into them, a spoken willingness to share the burden. Sometimes words do matter as much as actions do.

We haven't forgotten him. We don't forget him for a second. You can say his name aloud. Please say his name aloud.


Sally said...

Gannet Girl I hear you, and acknowledge your need to speak of and about your son. How strange it is that behave as a community that is unaquainted with grief... our culture has a lot to answer for.

Peace be with you

Rev SS said...

So sorry. I feel your pain. And see this over and over again. Can you be the one to make the phone call, and/or first mention of his name, helping others know it's not only okay ... but what you want and need?

earthchick said...

Oh, I am so sorry for the absence of any mention of him at the table. I can understand why that would only intensify your own grief and sense of isolation.

In seminary, I had a friend whose family honored their recently departed loved ones at holiday meals by setting a place for him/her. I thought that was so powerful - such a vivid acknowledgment of the loss, and a reminder that the person was still so present in his/her absence in the hearts of the people at the table.

I don't know if I've left a comment on your blog before or not, but I do think of you, and remain so sorry for your loss.

Purple said...

It must of been heartbreaking to sit through the holiday and yet feel like you could not (or deferred because of not being in your own home) speak of your son.

You remain...in my heart.

Mary Beth said...

Chicago Son! I remember you and honor you! your family does not forget you!

Thank you for this message.

Songbird said...

I think it's almost harder to be with close relatives, who have their own set of feelings adding another layer of complications and, because they are older, a different generational perspective. I am so sorry for the silence.

Teri said...

So sorry. One of the worst things about grief, in my experience, was everyone around me acting as though the world were normal when it was clearly all wrong and would never be normal again. 3 years later, my family still doesn't talk about my mom. Don't they realize it cuts out all the stories of my life if we can't talk about her? I suppose not, or else it's too painful for them, I don't know.
I hope you find a place you can talk about Chicago Son, remember and honor and maybe even giggle a little at silly stories.
(I'll stop making this about me now...)

Kathryn said...

Oh that is so painful...knowing that the silence comes not from lack of care but from mistaken belief that it will be less painful does not make it easier in any way.
And I guess that if anything could make Chicago Son's absence even more evident it might be the silence around his name.
Inadequate hugs and prayers continue

Cynthia said...

After R. first died, I wrote of feeling that everything about me had become distasteful. That passed, but bringing up my husband now is causing that same reaction of discomfort again. I cannot pretend he did not exist or that he doesn't still take up so many of my thoughts, yet there doesn't seem to be a place for that in this world. Thank you for creating this blog, this entry, your courage and generosity in sharing all of this.

Catherine + said...

Gannet Girl, what was his name so I can say it for you and for him.


Gannet Girl said...

His name is Josh.

Sophia said...

Oh, God, Gannet, I am so sorry.

I remember the utter agony of the first Christmas Eve after our fifteen month old daughter was killed....My Grandma told us not to talk about her because it would make my uncle and his wife, who had a child two months younger, feel bad. And my father began dinner with the toast "May 1991 year never have happened"--thus wishing away a third of her life. And several years later, when my mother gave the count of her grandchildren to a neighbor with Rachel subtracted (she still does this, I know, and even understand why--but hasn't since in our presence, at least).

It is unbelievable that people think mentioning our beloved ones would make us hurt more, or suddenly remember them as if we had forgotten....And it is so tiring to constantly be the ones bringing them up naturally to clue people in that it's acceptable and in fact terribly welcome.