Rosanne Cash - The World Unseen

Now that we must live apart
I have a lock of hair
and one-half of my heart

So I will look for you
Between the grooves of songs we sing
Westward leading, still proceeding
To the world unseen

There are no gifts that will be found
Wrapped in winter, laid beneath the ground
You must be somewhere in the stars
'Cause from a distance comes the sound of your guitar

And I will look for you in Memphis and the miles between
I will look for you in morphine and in dreams
I will look for you in the rhythm of my bloodstream

Mourning Jewellery

Alexander Mcqueen spring/summer 2007. Mourning jewellery were pieces of jewellery often with a deceased lover or child’s lock of hair encased

A Fatherless Daughter

Girl in mourning dress holding framed photograph of her father, who presumably died during the American Civil War. (source)

This Devastation I Have Known

Thinking about grief, perhaps obsessively. Thinking about my writing project next year, the one that terrifies me, that seems too ambitious or just irrelevant. Who wants to read about me reading grief memoirs? But I need to read these books about grief. I have a long list of them. There's poetry and theory and fiction and non-fiction. There are people mourning mothers, spouses, and children and here I am, ready to descend into all that pain. I even found a scholarly journal called "Death Studies" and spent hours last night downloading all the articles. Grief is my singular obsession. And yet I still don't feel capable of writing about it and maybe reading these books is a way for me to both write about it and not write about it, confront it but still keep my distance. What am I looking for in these texts? My grief is six years old now, almost seven. Time has not erased it but it has changed it. I'm still adapting to life without a father. I am navigating a world where fathers still exist but there is not one to call my own. This grief is the only thing I know. I want to read books about it. I want to find people who feel it too, who understand, in some way, this devastation I have known.


I want to write about "Amour", the latest film by Michael Haneke, and I can't. You just have to watch it. My words on the movie are futile. What I can write about is the last time I saw my grandmother.  I lay in bed beside her. By this time, she was sick and mostly bedridden but still living at home. We watched television together. My mom sat in a chair nearby. My grandmother wore purple silk pajamas that hung off her emaciated frame. When she sat up to go to the bathroom, the silk top draped down in the back, exposing the notches of her vertebrae, they looked like small stones under her skin. After that visit I could not go back. How do you watch someone slowly disappear? How do you cope with it? And I think of her in that room by herself. Her husband cared for her, my mother visited almost every day but what about the hours when no one was present? What did she think and feel? I will never know.

A Family's Grief

Hatice Corbacioglu went missing in 2009 after driving to New York to see her boyfriend. She has never been found and authorities believe her boyfriend was involved in Hatice's disappearance. Today, on a television show, I saw Hatice's father and sister speak about the pain of their loss and their words profoundly moved me.

The sister said "We are burning."

The father said "My life is in ruins."


I don't feel deeply enough. To be a writer you must feel deeply.

I see my blog as a digital time capsule, a virtual "capacious hold-all" as Woolf would say. This passage from her diary is everything to me:

What sort of diary should I like mine to be? Something loose-knit and yet not slovenly, so elastic that it will embrace anything, solemn, slight or beautiful, that comes into my mind. I should like it to resemble some deep old desk or capacious hold-all, in which one flings a mass of odds and ends without looking them through. I should like to come back, after a year or two, and find that the collection had sorted itself and refined itself and coalesced, as such deposits so mysteriously do, into a mould, transparent enough to reflect the light of our life, and yet steady, tranquil compounds with the aloofness of a work of art.

I can't sleep. All I keep saying to myself is: "I miss my dad. I miss my dad. I miss my dad."

I need for there to be a way out. Maybe writing is the only way out for me but it's also a way in.

I write for the fatherless daughters.

Frances Hodgson Burnett and Grief

After her son, Lionel, died of tuberculosis in December of 1890 Burnett was devastated. In the Barnes and Noble edition of The Secret Garden, Jill Muller writes

In her passion of grief Frances covered the walls of her hotel rooms with pictures of Lionel and wrote letters and journals to her dead son. 

Love and Death

December 21, 2012

Since my father's death, I can't trust people or connect to them in the same way.  Before he died, I had notions about the world. I thought people were good, that we take care of one another. I thought the world was something that it is not. I lost my innocence and my illusions, I lost an essential part of myself.  It irreparably scarred me--not just losing him but losing my faith in humanity. The artifice of life was peeled away. I saw the truth of other people, I saw the worst in them, I saw that this country does not care about the poor, I saw that my father's life, my life, my mother's life mean nothing. I saw that no one saves you. You lose and lose and keep on losing. I saw that the people you trust the most can always hurt you. So much leaked out of me. There is an indifference, a selfishness, an insensitivity in me that is so ugly I cannot bear to confront it or even admit it. This is what life has done to me.

I say "I love you" but do I mean it? How am I showing it? Is it real? At times, I feel like Juliette Binoche in Trois Couleurs: Bleu, avoiding attachments and human intimacy because they are traps. Love becomes a burden. What you love can die, vanish, leave. You are not what you love. What you love is separate from you, and this makes loving so terrifying. I fear that I say love but do not feel it, do not surrender to it or fully show it. I fear I am wrapped up in myself too much, because I am all I've ever had; I am the one person I have always been able to rely on.

Did I love my father? I ask myself this all the time. I was sixteen when he died. Did I show my love, did he feel it? Will my love for him always be a little girl's love, the love of a girl who cannot love? Last week, I asked my mother if I made my father happy. She said that I did. I'm not sure why I asked. I know he loved being my father. He told me he loved me every single day. But what about me did he love? Did he even know me? Did I know him? Do I remember a myth, an illusion, rather than a real man? I was not just robbed of my father but of his love and how that love could have changed me, moved me, shown me how to love.

"Very early in my life it was too late" *

I used to cry myself to sleep when I was little. Maybe I knew what was coming. I could never enjoy things even when I was happy. I was born with the knowledge of loss.

*Title taken from The Lover by Marguerite Duras

Too Much Nothing

There is too much of the past in the present, too many things happening right now that I cannot bear. I survived them once. I don't know how to survive them again.

I've been in bed most of the day, alternating between numbness and anxiety. I pulled the bedspread over my head to make a tent around me. It was warm inside there, light broke through the green threads, and I felt safe for a little while.

This morning, I buried my face in my pillow, like I was smothering myself. I liked it. I remembered when I used to go swimming and sink to the bottom of the pool where I held my breath for as long as I could. Time stopped. The world disappeared. That's how it felt with my face in the pillow, but I had to breathe. So it didn't last long. I thought of how depression is suffocation. Depression is the pillow on my face, blotting out light and hope. I turned over and lay on my back for a long time, thinking of nothing. There is too much nothing in my mind.

Christmas - 2006

I remember very little about the first Christmas after my father's death, but I still think of one night lying in bed with my mother and looking at the twinkle lights we'd hung in her room. I put my arms around her. I promised myself I would never let go and never forget what it felt like to hold her soft, warm, living body after so much death.

Snow - 2006

The first winter after my father's death, there was a substantial snowfall. I was seventeen. I put on my gray fleece coat, the lining as white as the snow, and walked around the yard alone. Only silence. Snowflakes fell on my hair and skin. I saw a dead rabbit in a ditch, a hole in its head, blood crusting on the rim of the wound. I thought of Emily Dickinson wearing only white after her father's death. I looked at the world--all the houses shrouded in white, the ground unmarred by footprints, the icy shimmer on every surface--and I wept because it was beautiful and he was not there to see it, because he would never be with me again.

Life is in the Flowers

When my father died and I sat in front of his casket at the funeral, I had to listen to a preacher give a sermon. We were at the cemetery. Everyone was sitting in chairs, we were under a tent, his grave was nearby. This preacher did not even know my father. Nothing he said mattered. He mentioned god. I did not listen. Instead, I watched the ants crawling on the ground and I stared at the red carnations on my father's casket and thought--life is in the flowers. I did not want his words of god. I did not want god. I just wanted my father.

Grief and Place

Sunday - December 9, 2012

It's almost midnight. I am sitting in the dark. My face is illuminated by the computer screen. My window is up. I hear the hush of passing cars and voices in the distance. I've studied french verbs for hours but I still cannot remember all the conjugations for the conditional, the subjunctive, and the future; they bleed together. What does it say about me that I understand math better than language? Math class was easy this semester. The numbers were beautiful, there was only one answer, everything was concrete and made sense. But french has tortured me, challenged me, shown me how weak my memory is. Tomorrow, I will take my french final and, after that, it's home and a few weeks of Christmas vacation and I find myself ambivalent about going home because I like being in this dark room by myself. I like the voices in the distance, the amber glow of the streetlamps, the branches that fan out and dip their tips in the light. I like my solitude. It is sacred to me. I both long for home--the meadows, the gravel roads, the scent of earth and smoke in the air, the hum of the crickets, the beauty of a Southern landscape that will always haunt me--and want to escape home. I've lived in the same house my entire life. Since my father's death, the house has become a prison. Everywhere I look I see him. I wonder if his DNA is still lingering on some of the surfaces, maybe his skin cells are on a door knob or a speck of blood is in the kitchen. I wish I had a lock of his hair. I wish I had a tangible trace of him. All I really have is his handwriting on a few birthday cards; it is insufficient, but comforting. His script is so tiny and neat. I cope better when I'm not in that house. Once I'm back inside those walls, the memories consume me. I see him everywhere, I see the life we had together. I know it's gone, I tell myself it is over but I will never accept it. The truth is, no matter where I am, whether I am in the house we shared or in a dorm room miles away, his death and his absence mutilate my life. And I often wonder if home even exists anymore. He was home, our family of three was home, and without him we are something else but I don't know what we are. There is no name for it. We are outside language. This grief is unspeakable.


The year is fading. I can't remember how it began. My memories dissolve, they have been dissolving for years now. Nothing stays. In the parking garage of my apartment building, glass was scattered across the concrete. At first I thought it was ice but when the shards were still there days later I knew it was glass. I wanted to touch it. I wondered what the pieces had once been and if they had ever held anything. I know now that memory is like that--the experience as it is lived is whole but fragile, vitreous. Then there is the crack, then the shattering, then the shimmer of the glass ruins strewn in the mind. Memory is jagged, the act of remembering injures. When I remember, it's as though I am in a dark forest with trees all around, their thick tops blotting out the sun, and then a slab of sunlight pierces the dark and illuminates a fragment lying on the forest floor. I bend to pick it up, mesmerized by the luminescence, curious to know what it is. It does not matter that my hands are slashed by the memory as I hold it, that I bleed after remembering, what matters is that I see, feel, taste, inhale a lost moment. Some memories are terrible. I hate them but pick them up too. I can't control what that slab of light falls on, or where it will take me. Memory is light, it is a glow, a spark in the darkness even if what is remembered is horrid--you must look, you must see, and then the blackness saves you and the memory is gone. No more light. It is mercy.

Dreams of the Dead

This morning, I woke from another dream of my father. How to describe the experience of being with the dead again? The dream supplants reality, the dream is reality. Waking is disorienting. I don't remember much, only that we spoke and embraced and, as always, I believed he was alive again. I was desperate to hold onto that delusional world of a living, breathing father. The images are inside me, like a word I can't recall but that I know I've heard and must speak. Maybe it's best to forget. I woke to a racing heart and could not catch my breath, my whole body ravaged from dreaming him alive. My father--if he knew how I ache for him, if he knew how I am drowning. If only we could hear, see, know one another. His death is killing me.

I wake and he cannot wake. I dream and he cannot dream. Even the pain I feel is lost to him, he who feels nothing, is nothing. I want to see his bones, the ones Plath thought "would do." I have to get back to him, that's what the dreams tell me. I have to carve up the earth and sink down, as far as I can go, and find a way to him. I need his body, his arms, his hands, his voice. His voice. The one I'll never hear again, the one I have no record of. The voice I hear in my dreams, the voice I imagine in my mind, which has become a grave for him. Decomposition. Decay. That's all my mind is. He's there, he's always there.

Human Touch in "The Human Stain"

In "The Human Stain," grief is conveyed through the body. After a man loses his wife, he begins a romance with a woman haunted by tragedy. Together, they escape into the erotic, a force so powerful that it can both destroy and restore. In scene after scene the two lovers hold one another. They have nothing else to hold, the people they loved are gone. So their bodies become substitutes for the missing, they fill a space once occupied by an unknown other.

 In my own moments of grief, which are always solitary, I wonder what it would feel like to have physical intimacy with another person in the midst of such devastation. What would being touched at that moment do to me? Would it save me, repulse me, consume me? Would I devour it and long for it again? What if he put his fingers in my hair, rubbed my back, held me, listened to me, made love to me--would the grief change, would it disappear or intensify? What does it mean to both confront and escape grief through the body? How can the erotic be channeled to cope with grief?

Confronting Death in Michael Haneke's "The White Ribbon"

The moment at which you recognize that your own death lies in wait somewhere within your body. — Ron Silliman, "You"

I'm interested in our first confrontations with death--usually when we are young and a relative or family friend dies--and how these confrontations affect our lives in profound ways. Take, for instance, a scene in Michael Haneke's masterful film, The White Ribbon, in which a little boy learns about death for the first time. He struggles to grasp the concept and asks his sister the same questions over and over. The long, repetitive style of the scene illustrates how incomprehensible death is, how we lack the tools to make sense of it.

The sister comforts the boy with his youth, insisting that death will happen at a later, unspecified date. She shows how death is part of the unknown; it is something that can be postponed but not prevented. She does not want her brother to think about death, but once we are introduced to the fact that we are going to die we cannot forget it no matter how much we would like to.

In another scene from The White Ribbon, a different boy stands in a room by a dead body whose face is shrouded. He lifts the shroud out of curiosity. Rarely can we look away from death even though it horrifies us.

The boy's reaction to the dead body is understated. What is he thinking? Is he frightened? We don't completely know and perhaps we project our own memories onto this scene and think about our first confrontation with a dead body; I know I certainly do. The boy is touching someone who cannot feel or breathe, a person who no longer exists. All that the boy is--all that the living are--is all that the dead body is not; it is just nothingness, a vacant skin. When you look at death, nothing looks back.

Grief Language

Grief is my obsession; it consumes me. When my father died, I was destined to always know grief.  For a short period of time after his death I could not read or write. The things that had once comforted me in life were useless, but I found my way back to them. I've come to the realization that my life's mission is to write his death--write the grief, write the aching, write the horror, write the trauma. I can't have him so I write. I can't live so I write. I can't stop fearing death so I write.

I am always writing my grief even when what I am writing is not explicitly about grief. What interests me is the way grief has altered my mind and my language. The way I write--the fragments, the unfinished thoughts, the sentence structure--is constructed by grief. The rawness, the honesty, the personal details, the exposure, the confession, the flaws--it is all shaped by his death and what the loss of him did to me, how it destroyed me and forced me to remake myself with less material than I had before. Sometimes, ideas don't cohere; I read the same passages multiple times in a book and fail to understand them or I want to write and have no conception of how my thoughts should be organized or connected. Sometimes, the words themselves make no sense, and I feel like I've never read a book in my life or written one word before. Those are the worst times.

My central desire is to craft my own grief language. I will do this by reading how other people write about grief, how they grapple with unspeakable loss through the written word. Over the course of 2013, I will share what I discover here on this blog. I will review books about grief because I need to go as deep as I can into this wound that I carry with me; I need to know how other people survived it and what they did with it.

 At my father's funeral, I gave no eulogy; I said nothing, the words abandoned me. For the rest of my life I will try to rectify that mistake and either find the words I could not find then--a language of grief and mourning unavailable to me at the time--or I will accept that only silence can hold his death and that silence itself is a language that must be listened to and lived with.


So many of my thoughts come on the bus. A moving vehicle has always been an inspiring place for me. I like watching the world without being watched by it. I like knowing I am going somewhere but that someone else is taking me there; I don't have to feel responsible, I don't have to make any decisions, I don't even have to think, but I do.

I think of the people who live in the houses I pass by. During the day, people sometimes sit on the porches or hang their laundry on clotheslines or little kids play basketball in a front yard. A few houses are already dotted with Christmas lights. At night, the windows glow, people gather outside together, cigarettes dangling from their mouths, their hands expressive, alive.

I accept my distance. I do not go closer. To me, they are blurs; I see them for a moment and then the bus passes them and motion makes them unreal, far away, a memory.

Maybe these moments are the reason I reach for the small notebook tucked in my purse at all times. I try to write while the bus is moving, but the vibration of the engine makes it difficult for me to form the words; my handwriting ends up looking like black wisps and webs, an unintelligible language. Even so, I cannot turn off the thoughts or wait for the bus to stop; the words have their own flow and rhythm, they flood me, I submit to them even though, hours later, when I read them in my bedroom, their magic is gone because their context is gone, the life of the moment is gone, the sounds of the people and the engine, the scent of the grass in the air, the sun in my eyes--all of it has disappeared.

When I am writing in that notebook on the bus, I feel I am living a secret life, that as the world around me teems and expands, I am both there and somewhere else, part of it and separate from it, existing in a place beyond time. I've never felt completely real or solid. I still live mostly in my mind.  I still cannot believe that what people see--my body, my skin, my face--is not me because me is inside, me is language. I am the words, the thoughts, the memories, and if I do not write them down then people will never truly see the me that I want to show them; the me I want to make visible before I am gone.

How the Years Vanish

I think I am living more in the moment than I ever have before. I savor things because the knowledge of their transience has finally sunk into me. It's as though I finally see life for what it is and, though the ache for the past is never gone, I want to be alive now.

How the years vanish, how time dissolves and leaves so little for us to love. I have to keep loving in my own way. I need to keep living for the moments of happiness, the afternoons of reading, the nights when I breathe the winter air and feel connected to life and to other people.

I need to keep writing, which is why I created this blog. Words take me where I need to go, into the abyss and into the light. It is not until I write that I realize what I have seen, known, and felt. Nothing touches my life, my being, my anguish, nothing fully captures my experiences, but I need to stop letting my life vanish.