At work, I sit with a group of women during lunch. They are all older than me, in their late thirties and early forties with husbands, ex-husbands, and children. I am 26. One day, they talk about people they've lost. The women believe the dead communicate with us, that they send signs, that they are always with us. The women think death is a continuation of life. They tell their stories. I listen. I do not speak because I don't believe the same things as they do, and I don't want my non-belief to be misconstrued as judgment or condemnation. I stay silent.
I realize that I cannot speak my father's death. I can only write it. I know, in that moment of sitting with the women, that if I say he is dead, that my father died when I was sixteen years old, if I attempt to tell my story, I will be swallowed by darkness. I will sob. I will lose control. I will gasp for breath. Nearly ten years he has been dead and I cannot talk about it. Where would I begin? And how insulting to nonchalantly mention his death on a lunch break to complete strangers. How terrifying to watch them nod their heads and pretend to understand.
This is the gap between me and other people, the gap between silence and speech, between what can be communicated and what must stay locked inside me or only exist in written language. I can't even imagine myself saying the words "My father died" to the women. My father is dead. How? Please tell me, how did my life become this moment of saying my father is dead, that he was once a person and is now nothing? No, I could never speak it. Just to write it devastates me. Just to live it is annihilating. It's as though I carry this secret with me, the secret of my father's death, this pulsating wound that I can't heal because I can't touch it or bandage it. I can't even look at it. My writing is the only space in which I can confront it and even then language creates a distance between me and the horrific truth.
Yes, in that moment with the women I could have shared my secret and tried to make a connection with them. I could have said that I do not believe in God or the supernatural, but I believe in humanity, in the meaning we create for ourselves. But the cost would have been too great. We should not have to flay ourselves to make connection. We should not have to always confess every dark pain to other people. I choose when and where and how I talk about grief. I choose to write it, to explore it on this blog and in my personal writing. I have no desire to sit with a group of people and attempt to vocalize my grief. I keep it inside where I can control it and live with it and not lose my life to it.