I am grateful for Great Writers. They connect us to each other, connect us to ourselves, through voicing what is glimmering on the edges of our consciousness. By expressing these things, they bring them into focus and validate them.
My father has been gone for over a decade now. When I was a child, he “left” me once before when my parents divorced, so his death was a second loss of him. After that first loss, his commitment to me was clear. And somehow that experience of commitment continued after his death.
At the time of his death, I felt that the handful of people that would lay down in traffic for me had decreased, never to be replaced.
Although I do not feel his presence now in a specific way – we don’t hold conversations, he doesn’t haunt me – he is with me now in some ineffable way. I experience that his love for me has expanded and envelops me, like a warm coat.
So, I was interested to read just that experience described in a recent New Yorker article on Roland Barthes’ mourning for his mother. In William C. Carter’s Marcel Proust: A Life, Proust described the trajectory of grief to a friend this way:
“You will know a sweetness you cannot yet conceive. When you had your mother, you thought a great deal about the days when you would no longer have her. Now you will think a great deal about the days when you did have her.” Once [his friend] has adjusted to “the terrible experience of being forever thrown back on the past, then you will feel her gently returning to life, coming back to take her place again, her whole place beside you.”
That’s my experience. I was angry as he was dying, I fretted about his poor health and poor self-care, focusing on our impending loss. And now, after the initial shock, over the years, I have felt his presence, his love, expand again in my consciousness. Perhaps a trick of the mind, a self-comforting chimera, or maybe simply this is what adulthood feels like. No matter how this happened inside my head, I am thrilled to see it is not only my experience, but the experience of others, captured by Proust.
Even in the loneliness and isolation of grief, there is union or communion across the separation of time.