H. Wayne Schow
Grieving [Fall 1989]
[p. 133]”I have been one acquainted with the night,” says Robert Frost in a well-known poem. I can edit that line a little and say, “I have become one acquainted with grief.” The verb “acquainted” is precisely accurate with its suggestion of direct and unmediated experience.
I did not realize how much I would miss Brad. Now, three years after his death, not a day passes without his being in my thoughts. There is so much to remind me of him. He lived with a surprising range of interests and enthusiasms: history, politics, urban culture, certain kinds of western landscape, literature, family relationships, philosophy, theology, weather, psychology, music and visual art, the impact of style in all facets of culture. His sticky mind contained a wealth of eclectic information.
To be around Brad was unavoidably to have one’s awareness expanded. I was continually arrested by his views, by his taste, by his way of experiencing the world. His aesthetic sensibilities were strong, his crap detector well-developed. Continually he provoked and challenged my conventional wisdom. That was not always comfortable, but it was unquestionably valuable to me. He was so intense. What he liked he cared for passionately; what he didn’t he abhorred. His moods were similarly up or down. He was not always measuredly rational, and he was not always easy to live with, but [p. 134]he heightened the impact of anything around you he regarded. Any time you spent with him was memorable.
Because so little around him escaped his notice or comment, because his interests corresponded at so many points with my own, my daily experiences in all of these areas continuously reinvoke him.
Certain places are especially potent to release the flood of memory, places like our old neighborhood on South Ninth where Brad and his brother Roger and their friends roamed the yards and alleys, played kid games, got into kid mischief, and learned a good bit about the world; places like our spot of ground on the semi-rural hills of Johnny Creek, south of town, where Brad grew to love the views over the narrow valley and the Portneuf Gap beyond, the sunsets startling the deeply furrowed northeastern hills into sharp relief, dramatic summer thunderstorms, and the solitude of the wooded ravine dropping below our house. It was an environment made to order for a romantic teenaged boy.
During the last year or so of Brad’s life, we frequented a spot up on one of the benches on the east side of the city, which commanded a panoramic view. You can see the mountains cradling Pocatello and the Portneuf Valley to the south, with snow-capped Scout Mountain in the center of this fine vista. This was a spot important to both of us, not only for its austere beauty, which was never quite the same from one day to another, but for the fact that we two walked and talked there, or, as it became increasingly difficult for him to walk, simply sat and discussed what was important to us at the time. Because Brad associated himself so powerfully with these places, I cannot visit any of them without waves of nostalgia pouring over me.
There are those who, with good intentions, attempt to help those of us who grieve by removing from our lives reminders of what is gone. That is not what we want. These memories—these crumbs of a Madeleine—are not something we wish to be done with. We want to remember.
One of the things I have learned about sorrow is that often we [p. 135]grieve most keenly for the loss of what we really never had but only anticipated. We are sustained in life so greatly by our hopes for the future, by projected scenarios involving ourselves and our loved ones, and when these fail to be realized we feel we have been deprived of what seems already rightfully ours.
When Brad told us in 1979 that he was gay, I denied the validity of his assertion. For a variety of reasons, it was unthinkable. But as weeks passed, and as his truth was borne home to us, both Sandra and I experienced a long period of intense, multifaceted grief. Much of that was our mourning the obliteration of some of our fondest hopes for his future—and ours. We mourned the loss of anticipated family relationships that would have been simpler, easier, safer for all of us because they would have been based on conventional unities. We mourned the loss of what would have been a less perplexing life for Brad because he would not have had so much to fight against the current. We mourned the loss of our daughter-in-law, the wife he would never have. We did not even consider that a male companion would bring compensating satisfaction. Especially, we grieved for the grandchildren, Brad’s children, who would never come. It seemed hard that he, who had understood the magic of childhood so well and always responded so warmly to little people around him, would never realize the challenges and joys of parenthood.
Our projected scenario was not to be. It had never really been promised. With time we came to accept by degrees Brad’s orientation and to realize that it brought other possibilities for fulfillment. Yet I think I have even now not entirely put aside—and perhaps never will—the gut feeling that some things that were rightfully mine were stolen.
Once earlier in my life I experienced the untimely death of a loved one. In 1966 my youngest brother Paul was killed in a one-car accident. He skidded in the rain on oil-slick asphalt paving and plunged over an embankment. He was not quite sixteen. In perfect health, with all of the rich promise of his life before him, he was suddenly no longer in our midst.
[p. 136]As a youth and as a young adult, I had seen my grandfathers and then my grandmothers pass away. I cared for them, and would miss them, but they had fulfilled their years. The young especially do not grieve for long when death comes in timely fashion and releases the old from their burdens. But premature death is something else. When a loved one is erased even as he stands on the threshold of maturity, the event lacks the naturalness that could reconcile us to it.
We came from Iowa to Idaho for Paul’s funeral. We mourned with our loved ones. We viewed the scene of the accident, we heard the explanations. We tried to make some larger sense of what had happened—and really we could not. We spent that week somewhat in a daze. It all seemed like a dream from which we would eventually wake.
I saw clearly the great void that opened in my parents’ lives, bereft as they were of their last born. Sandra and I took our children and went back to Iowa, to the demands of graduate school and the challenges of rearing a young family. And our grief softened and soon lost its central place in our daily awareness. We had much else to think about. But that did not happen for my mother and my father. With passing months and years, I saw that such loss is different for parents than for others, including siblings. Parents have so much of themselves invested. Their offspring are their contribution to the future, an extension in some sense of themselves. The good lives of those offspring are the reward for the travail of bringing them forth, of bringing them up. Now, more than two decades later, I know this emotionally, from a parent’s point of view. I understand now that my memories of Brad contain a core of grief that probably will never entirely fade.
Thinking of my parents and their loss, I have sometimes during the past three years wondered which is worse: To have, as with Paul, a loved one wrenched away from you suddenly by accidental death, as though stolen, with no warning, no preparation. Or to lose a loved one, as we did Brad, by stages, with ample time—too much time—to recognize and then become familiar with the inevitable [p. 137]drift toward death. To be an onlooker as a vigorous body and a quick mind are dismantled by degrees through the agency of a relentless virus, to watch as in the stricken one the desire for life ebbs and the longing for death grows. And to recognize with horror that you have come to share that longing for death’s arrival. To experience vicariously the process that weans us from life’s sweetness and reconciles us to its negation. In the aftermath, is that better or worse?
Clearly, in a case like the latter, one in which a loved one is terminally ill, much of the grieving is experienced before death comes. During Brad’s last months, we reached decisive points at which we could not realistically hope for his recovery, points at which we could not avoid leave-taking and its attendant sorrow. In September when Ted departed to spend two years in Uruguay, the oldest and the youngest brothers embraced and said goodbye, knowing full well that they would not see each other again in this world. That farewell was a harbinger of death.
Another early watershed of grief was Brad’s decision in mid-August to dispose of his valued possessions. The task was symbolic: it was a formal letting-go. There was an undeniable finality about that sorting through and considering who would value his books, his art objects. I did less well than Sandra in observing and talking with him about those decisions, for that process too was a little death.
Grief made another premature claim three weeks before the end when Brad decided to stop taking AZT, the experimental AIDS drug, and Bacterin, a powerful antibiotic. His decision was a considered acknowledgement that a quality recovery was no longer possible. If our sense of loss did not overwhelm us then, it was only because we were still preoccupied with the practical matters of seeing the illness through to the end. That was time- and energy-consuming, and to some extent it postponed the full payment of the emotional debt.
I have learned some things about how grief is shared, or often not shared. I have seen how compassion felt and expressed can [p. 138]bring enormous solace, but I have also realized how difficult it is for most of us to reach out more than superficially, or for the bereaved to invite such reaching out. As a result, there is, almost inevitably, a terrible isolation attending grief.
The isolation may be self-chosen. Some who suffer the loss of love, of reputation, of station, are like the wild duck in Ibsen’s play. When wounded they plunge to the bottom of the lake and attach themselves to the weeds. Unwilling to confront their loss, or to encounter others who would remind them of it, such die a figurative death under water. But the majority of us who suffer grievous loss need to feel, I think, that the world has noticed and that the world cares. If this is so, why is it so hard to break through the barrier of isolation? Why, when we want so badly to express our puzzlement, our frustration, our woe to sympathetic ears, do such real encounters occur so infrequently? (I speak here of conversations that go beyond the well-meant but perfunctory expressions of sympathy: “We heard about your loss, and we are so sorry.” “Thank you.”)
There is a variety of reasons. To begin with, we who grieve are often too reluctant to broach the subject of loss. Perhaps we feel that to do so is to compel others to commiserate with us. At the most that seems presumptuous, at the least not sufficiently stoic. Ironically, others may interpret our seeming reluctance to mean that we do not wish to talk about our loss. They respect what they mistakenly believe to be communicated by our silence.
Sometimes kind acquaintances who would like to take the initiative simply lack the courage. They do not want to cause us pain, and they fear that bringing up the subject of our loss will be painful to us. Often they feel that they have not the words to articulate adequately, kindly and delicately, the consolation they would like to bring—so they remain silent. There are others—more than a few, I believe—who are themselves subconsciously troubled by the unpredictability of existence, by the threat of nihilism lurking in the shadows. Our problem is an unpleasant reminder of that which they would prefer to forget. And so they act as though life, ours as well as theirs, were proceeding calmly on an even keel.
[p. 139]Most troubling of all are those instances when the circumstances associated with one’s loss are related to taboos, such as homosexuality or a disease like AIDS, taboos which arise from religious convictions, from simple prejudice, or from fear. When such conditions exist, the would-be comforter has difficulty dealing with the ambiguity of his feelings, or may despair of being able to express her honest sentiments without giving offense—and simply avoids the subject altogether.
Whatever the cause, I have been continually aware of people who knew of my loss and grief and probably would like to have reached out to comfort me—but couldn’t, didn’t know how to get across that abyss. (Sometimes it was I who could not bridge the gap, held back by pride, afraid I’d appear foolish if I expressed my feelings; on the other hand, a few times when friends indulged me, I have pinned them like Coleridge’s wedding guest and unloosed upon them a flood of suppressed perplexity and outrage, until I recognized with some embarrassment my excess and their discomfort.) So many times I’ve been aware of pregnant opportunities when two persons could have talked about matters deeply important—when we could have spoken candidly of our humanity with all of its paradoxes and uncertainties—and those conversations died in embryo, impotent to be born.
But in another way, Sandra and I did get a more than usual number of opportunities to talk about our loss, including opportunities to speak with largely sympathetic groups. It was because AIDS was just then in 1987 much in the news, and awareness of its potential impact in the provinces was growing. So we were invited by church groups—Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists (sadly, never by our own Mormon congregations)—to come and describe what our individual and family experience was like, isolated as we had been. We were invited by various health care providers and educators to explain in group settings how, without much support, we had fared in contending with a frightening set of circumstances. We always took advantage to say that our expe-[p. 140]rience had to be seen in the context of societal and religious attitudes toward homosexuality.
Furthermore, I had written an article-length letter to one of our church’s leaders, a letter in which I expressed much of what I felt in the weeks following Brad’s death. Eventually, in altered form, that document began to circulate widely, generating a number of mostly friendly and sympathetic responses. It soon became known that we were willing to talk with people who were troubled by personal and familial experience with homosexuality or AIDS. Sandra especially became a kind of one-person, multifaceted support resource. She collected articles, books, pamphlets, tapes dealing with homosexuality and AIDS and became the center of a surprisingly active information service. We met and shared our experience with a good many people in varied contexts.
We undertook these activities partly out of love for Brad, as a way of belatedly trying to let the world know of our acceptance and support of him (which had not always been unconditional and obvious). Perhaps we hoped that in some mystical way he would know what we were doing. I think we believed it was a way of pursuing fairness and love in the world and of attempting to minimize the pain that many others feel. Undoubtedly we became involved to meliorate to some degree our pain. What we confronted in our loss was absurdity, and our activism was an instinctive, reflex effort to combat it. On the deepest level, we were satisfying our own psychological need.
Whatever the range of motivations, we were fortunate. We found opportunity to examine methodically our experience of loss, to sort through it with people who would listen, and thereby to alleviate the effects of grief stemming from isolation and silence. In this we have been more fortunate than many, who, grieving, have but limited opportunity to express their feelings, and who lack a purposeful cause to which they can redirect their emotions.
“We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” writes Joan Didion at [p. 141]the outset of The White Album. She is referring to a time when culture and the events of her life seemed particularly devoid of coherence:
We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely … by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the “ideas” with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.
We are thus driven, Didion implies, because the human psyche does not wish to confront ontological chaos. Existence must be purposeful, its elements connected, and when we are confronted with the prospect of absurdity, our minds go quickly to work imposing patterns of meaning that have their real origins in ourselves. It is defensive action. Ingeniously—perhaps desperately—we devise strategies rooted in myth, superstition, or other specious correspondences to make existence bearable. Francis Bacon, that severe empiricist, would accuse us of worshipping idols of the tribe, the cave, and the theater. He would concur with Didion: “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”
With more than a little conviction that they are right, I have seen in myself during the past three years this very tendency, this necessity to impose purposeful coherence in the absurd fabric of my recent experience. Contemplating Brad’s death, before and after, my mind has pursued many an avenue, many a “what if,” that might hold the unthinkable at bay. I am not referring to large order theological solutions, not for example the view that God willed Brad’s death, called him home, has another purpose for him just now. That premise contains several problems for me. Rather, I refer to much more modest evidence of coherence, small connections that might be a sign, however indefinite, of hope.
Let me cite an example. We had a ficus fig tree in our living room that we were fond of. In our previous dwelling it had flourished for several years. But ficus figs are delicate. When we moved to 20th [p. 142]Street, the tree began to lose its leaves. No matter, before long it put out new light green ones. They grew to a little more than an inch in length, then they too fell. Before long new leaves appeared—only to abort after several weeks. The plant settled into a cycle, a series of leafings and unleafings, attempting gamely to rejuvenate itself. Sandra, who has a green thumb, ministered devotedly to the ficus, and I thought it would pull through.
Somehow that fig tree’s fight for life became aligned for me with Brad’s simultaneous struggle. I watched them both day by day, looking for any little indications of improvement, any signs of hope. If it could pull off a miracle and survive, so could he. It was not superstition exactly. I knew full well there was no material connection between the two. Yet I understand as a result of my preoccupation with this little tree how a troubled mind searches for correspondences, how it wants to invest the symbol with power. You focus your mental energy, your faith, on the object of your grave concern, and when that seems not enough to infect your desire you cast about to find some external help.
Oh, how I watched that tree. How I wanted it to recover. With each renewed effort it made to put forth leaves, I thought: “Surely, this is the beginning of its return to health.”
Sandra tried this, she tried that—more light, less light, varied the watering, fertilized the soil, treated for insects. Gradually, with each new cycle there were fewer new leaves and fewer mature ones. I refused to acknowledge the decline, but several weeks before Brad died it was clear that the ficus was finished.
Another example. It was in late September, and I was feeling particularly burdened with grief. We had come to the point of planning for the end. On a Saturday afternoon I went out alone to hike on Haystack Mountain, just to get away for a few hours, just to get to where I could see the “big views.” While I was up there on the mountainside, a thought came to me powerfully: I would tell Brad that after he died and passed over he should find Paul. The young uncle and his nephew, the first grandchild, had had a special fondness for each other. Paul had been dead for twenty years, he [p. 143]had been over there, he would know his way around. He could be a guide. For Brad to find him would be to find an immediate friend, a familiar haven. This ordinary thought, so predictable in a way, came to me with the force of an epiphany. It brought incredible comfort to me as I descended the mountain.
I must say here that the afterlife for which I hope is not something which normally I feel comfortable or confident imagining in particular detail. Agnosticism accompanies my existential faith. Knowing that Brad’s view was somewhat like my own, I should have been prepared, I suppose, for his response to the “comforting advice” I offered on my return: he disparaged and abruptly dismissed it. One more reconciling story out the window.
Yet another modest example, the following summer, after Brad’s death. Once again I was on Haystack Mountain alone. Descending from the summit, I rested for a short while in an aspen grove on the steep, shady north side of a ridge. Out in the azure, only a little above my eye level, two large hawks were riding the thermal updrafts, effortlessly circling, gliding, rising. It was lovely to watch. They stayed on and on. It came to me that somehow I was watching Brad. At the time of his death, Sandra had said, “He looks like an eagle, and now he is soaring beautifully.” I remembered that image because I liked the connotations of a raptor’s virility and freedom which seemed so appropriate to Brad’s temperament.
Wasn’t it somehow right that Brad would return to this mountain environment he loved? Wasn’t it good to see him up there riding gracefully, so obviously at peace, in harmony with his elements? Wasn’t it nice that he had found a companion with whom to share this hour? And hadn’t he chosen this form and this time and this place to communicate to me from beyond death that he yet lives and thinks of us in the Idaho landscape where his mortal sensibilities were formed? I know this little experience was nothing more than poetic indulgence, an expression of my own deep longing, a small story I told myself in order to live through that particular period. But yes, it was comforting to me.
Dreams also must surely be included among the stories we tell [p. 144]ourselves, although their genesis in the unconscious may sometimes make their intent less obvious. I am not a great dreamer, but I have dreamed of Brad several times since his death with an immediacy and vividness that were more overpoweringly real than waking life. In one of those dreams, he returned to us like Lazarus from death. To me in the dream this was wholly unexpected; it was amazing. He was pale and thin, not merely from his mortal illness but because death itself had been an ordeal. Yet he was smiling gently and his countenance was radiant. Clearly, he was alive and mending, and in the way of becoming transcendent. I believe the reunion was as sweet to him as it was to me. I put my arms around him, and I knew it was he, intact, tangible. At this point in the short dream, I felt a beatitude of such depth and joyousness as I think I have never felt in life. I awoke shortly, but the afterglow lingered through the morning.
What is one to make of such a dream? I dare not conclude that it was an objective vision. It is too easily explained as subjective wish fulfillment, the subconsciously created form in which my love and longing found expression. But who can say for certain where fantasy ends and reality begins. I do know that the feelings evoked by the experience were sublime; it was as if I “on honeydew ha[d] fed,/ And drunk the milk of Paradise.”
I am struck by the similarities between the psychological stages in the dying process as described by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, including denial, anger, bargaining, despair, and acceptance, and the progress of grieving that others experience. That the stages so nearly correspond for the two groups is not surprising at all when one recognizes that the dying person is, after all, so obviously a griever. I want to comment here on the effects of anger as a part of that process.
One of the ways the mind attempts to cope with inscrutable deprivation is to find someone or something to blame. That at least diminishes to a degree the absurdity by providing a cause-and-effect [p. 145]explanation, and it provides an outlet for frustration. As I observed the extended suffering of my homosexual son, whom did I blame?
Not Brad. Having already concluded that he was not responsible for his homosexuality, I considered him in his total experience more sinned against than sinning. He made mistakes, but he learned from them. Could I be angry at his mother and me? Ultimately not. Setting aside my earlier homophobia, we had tried hard to understand and assist him. We too had changed. Did I blame God? No. God’s purposes are ultimately beyond my ken, and while I assume that they are benign, it would be foolish for me to presume to judge the infinite.
But did I blame our society for its closemindedness and intolerance? Yes, I did, for those cultural attitudes were finite, very close to home, and there seemed to me little excuse for such callous indifference on the part of a self-declared religious nation toward the plight of persons like Brad. And did I feel anger toward some of those institutional pillars of Christianity which ought to have been in the forefront promoting tolerance, understanding, and a climate fostering individual self-realization? Yes, I did. For those institutions were immediately, conveniently at hand, and I thought their failures were stunning.
Our relationship with our own church was inescapably affected. We felt how ironic it was that the presumed haven of spiritual comfort for those distressed was to us, during our long period of perplexity, remote from what was happening in our lives. In the greatest extremity that any of us in the family had faced, our church simply was not there for us. How was this possible? The doctrinal position on homosexuality was only symptomatic of a larger problem concerning the church’s epistemological view of how spiritual truth becomes known.
As the Mormons see it, prophets and others in the hierarchy are the conduits through whom God speaks. That means that on sensitive issues, real dialogue is pointedly discouraged. That means that in Latter-day Saint congregations there is no openness to discuss a matter such as homosexuality, except to dismiss it a priori. [p. 146]Officially, the church shows little interest in examining or crediting experiential truth when it lies outside orthodoxy. Since our experience over the preceding seven years had led us to a contrary view of the causes and existential realities of homosexuality, an unspoken barrier rose between us and friends whose highest loyalty is to the authority of the church. Under these circumstances, how could we approach our brothers and sisters to share with them the incongruous division between doctrine and the actual experience with which we were struggling. We remained silent.
There were, to be sure, several of our Latter-day Saint friends who became aware toward the end of Brad’s life of what was happening in our family. These included at least two of our ecclesiastical leaders, in whom we confided. On a personal level, these men responded with deep and sincere humanity. But they had no doctrinal comfort for us, nor could they speak out, then or now, to encourage through dialogue in their congregations a clearer, more tolerant understanding of homosexuality and its burdens.
For us, the implications of this situation extended beyond the issues relating to homosexuality. This experience simply added dramatic weight to our perception that organized religion is most concerned with conformity and preservation of the collective status quo. There would have been, I think, no lack of good will and support on the part of many of our LDS acquaintances if there had been a framework to encourage it. But the rigidity of the institutional church disarmed both their ability to respond helpfully and, not less important, our ability, even our willingness to allow them to do so. I remember two separate well-intentioned members of our ward who said to Sandra and me following Brad’s death: “We want you to know that we don’t think any the less of you because of what your son became.” None of us felt sufficiently comfortable to pursue the ambiguity of those statements.
If I grieved during this period, some part of it was sadness that our spiritual community had been weighed and found wanting. In spite of my increasing unorthodoxy, the church had always been [p. 147]important to my identity. Now, with some regret, I saw it diminished, fading as a vital force in my life.
I have learned that remorse can profoundly influence grief. One of the heaviest burdens in the aftermath of loss is the nagging awareness that one might have done better by the departed loved one. Three years later I still find myself thinking that I was not all that I could have been to Brad in his ordeal. Why didn’t I come out of the parent’s closet while he was still alive and acknowledge openly to the world that I had a gay son of whom I am proud. Why did I accept the convenient path of avoidance by agreeing with him that it was prudent not to let the world know—or more precisely our generally narrow-minded community. Couldn’t I by such an example have helped him know at a deeper level of my unconditional acceptance of him (was it really at that time unconditional?), and might that not have helped him leave this life with more personal acceptance and peace?
Moreover, did I really do all I could for him in terms of giving him my time? Should I, during his illness, have missed work more, should I have devoted less effort to finishing up the construction of our house, less time to church-related activity? Should we have spent more money than we did to increase his comfort, to bring him a few additional pleasures. As we went through that last year, it seemed we did the best we could, yet now I wish I had done more. How much is enough? I know that this is not a rational response, but it is there nonetheless. I know that the worst of grief will not be over unless I can forgive myself for not having been more for him then.
* * *
DECEMBER 5, 1989, the third anniversary of Brad’s death: a day fraught with melancholy. I am remembering that we did not spend his last mortal day entirely at his side. He had been hospitalized for six days. Sandra was with him during the morning. About noon [p. 148]Brad told her he wanted to be quite alone. We understood. After all, we had been hovering about continuously. After work I stopped in to see how he was. Sleeping—quietly. I sat there in his room for half an hour, then went home. About nine-thirty, I said, “Let’s go to the hospital.” When we got there we were startled to find him in extremis, struggling to breathe, sweating in agony. Why had the nurses not called us? We had needed to be there, if not for his sake at least for our own. We were terribly angry with them.
It was not an easy death. We are not sure to what extent he knew we were with him at the end. That haunts us. We were not able to tell him one last time—with assurance that he heard—that we love him, for somehow it seemed he was far away from us in the process of his dying, that we should not intrude too much on his solitude. And that haunts us. He was given a sedative about 11:00 on our request, and that probably hastened the end which came at 11:45. Did we do all that we could to support and ease his way in those last two hours. We do not know.
Where is he now, today? Has he found rest? On this day it is not easy to think of him as his old vital and intense self. I am too haunted by the memory of that gaunt face outlined sharply in a hospital bed. I remember too vividly his death throes. I pray he has had three years of peace and that he is happy, that he is among friends, that he feels our love reach out to him. But what if there is nothing beyond (this is not a natural thought to me, yet I must acknowledge its possibility)? Or worse (I contemplate this standing in my morning shower, trying to wake up): what if he is miserable, what if the state of the dead is a condition without shape or meaning, just frustrated, dark consciousness? I push this from my mind and pray with renewed fervor that he has found peace and is happy.
* * *
June 1991. Many more months have passed. It is now six years since the recognized onset of Brad’s illness, four and a half years since his death. According to conventional wisdom, time heals. That is partly [p. 149]true. While the months and years were passing, our wound of loss gradually scabbed over; little by little the crusty surface sloughed off, smoothed out. We have grown accustomed to his absence. To all outward seeming we go about our lives untroubled and well adjusted. We find pleasant days filled with challenging work, rewarding relationships, diverting experiences.
But to be accustomed is not necessarily to be reconciled. Time’s healing is but partial. Under that apparently restored surface lies a small hard knot, an inflamed residue of pain, a concentrated core of grief that gnaws at psychic tranquility. I am convinced this will be a permanent dis-ease, Blake’s invisible worm that lies concealed in the crimson joy of the rose.
Yet even if it could be dispelled by some deep healing, I think it should not be. I would be loathe to lose it altogether. It stands as a reminder of the truth about this flawed condition of mortality, a reminder—as Linda Loman tells Willy in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman—that “life is a casting off. It’s always that way.” I have acquired that knowledge dearly, and I do not wish to forget at what cost.