The Future

I'm currently a junior in college and, for the last three years, I've been struggling with the question of what to do after I graduate. The trauma of my past has made it almost impossible for me to even think about the future without dreading it. Since the death of my father, I've had no direction, no purpose, no belief that my life could even go forward when all I wanted was to be with him again. Maybe on an unconscious level I thought that planning for the future was a betrayal of my past with him, that living without him meant he didn't mean all that much to me. I know none of this is true, but these are the thoughts that consume me. I've had to give myself permission to survive.

I want to live my life in a way that honors him. I want to contribute something to the world. I've said it many times to many people but it bears repeating: my suffering connects me with every other human being. Our losses are all different and unique and deeply personal but the one commonality we share is that we lose what we love most. Those of you who have faced it often wonder how you survived. Those of you who haven't lost a loved one yet live in fear of the day when the unimaginable will happen. I've been there and being there has given me empathy, understanding, and compassion.

That is why I intend to pursue a career as a grief counselor. I've thought about this for some time, wondered if I could actually make it happen and now I know that it is possible. After speaking to a lovely woman at my university's career services center, I feel confident that I can begin the process of exploring the field and one day help people cope with loss, grief, and trauma.

It's hard to explain what I feel right now. In the middle of a dark and terrible time in my life, I feel hopeful. This is the beginning of something, the beginning of life, a rebirth.

Helen Humphreys's Top 10 Books on Grieving

This week, in The Guardian, Helen Humphreys provides a diverse selection of books about grief. Her list includes poetry, fiction, and even music, and underscores the multiple ways in which people grieve and confront loss. I am reminded of just how far I have to go when it comes to The Grief Project, how many texts there are to explore. Here is the list:

1. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
2. By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept by Elizabeth Smart
3. Refusing Heaven by Jack Gilbert
4. Donal Og by Anonymous, translated by Lady Augusta Gregory
5. Requiem by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
6. A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews
7. A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis
8. A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
9. A Very Easy Death by Simone de Beauvoir
10. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Of the ten works chosen by Humphreys, I've only read Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and it was a novel that resonated with me when I read it just a few months after my father's death. I remember connecting to the story because of Victor Frankenstein's obsession with resurrecting the dead, an obsession that also lived inside of me, especially at a time when I had intense dreams of my father being alive again. Of course, I also related to the monster and the isolation he felt from other people. My grief formed a wall between me and the world, one that remains intact to this day. I felt different, angry, alone, abandoned. Like the monster, I lost a father and did not know how to live without him.

In the aftermath of loss, we find a way to fill the absence left by those we love. More than anything, literature has helped me cope with my grief and anguish. Humphreys's list is an important addition to my ongoing collection of grief texts that I hope to read.

Saturday - April 6, 2013

"One can write and think too much - be too solitary, until in the end you feel as if your brain had been bruised. Better to rest sometimes from the problems, just sit in the sun for a time." 
-- Derek Raymond, He Died with his Eyes Open

Late morning. My dorm window has been open all night, conveying the sounds of cars, birds, and voices into my room. It feels like spring, finally. The fluctuating temperatures have taken a toll on my sinuses. I sit here in bed with an alternately stuffed and dripping nose, my throat sore, my lips dry and cracked. There is a breeze and my ceiling fan is on. I crave coolness. People rush outside on days like this--they jog, bike, wander the streets, sit with friends on benches. The morning light feeds them. But I stay inside, watch the world from my window. Most of the trees are still skeletal and stripped bare. A few dogwoods are frothing with white and lavender blossoms. The sky is one vast pool of luminosity from which light pours and pours. We drink days like this. We can't get enough.

I will stay in bed and keep reading Sleepless Nights by Elizabeth Hardwick. I like the flowing, fragmented style of her writing--the descriptions of New York, Billie Holiday, childhood in the South. I will try to write about the last few weeks, wade back into the trauma I've been avoiding. My memory is already degrading. So I must find the words before the experience disappears.

For now, there is only light and wind and birdsong.