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Christmas, Grief and Shadowplay

Author: joe

Wednesday, 23 December, 2009 - 22:47

Christmas is a hard time in my family. My father died eight years ago on Christmas day, after a few short months of living with a terminal diagnosis. It is still hard to summon words to trace the contours of the experience and its wake. Each thought rushes back; memories and meanings impossibly offer themselves for articulation; words flinch from the responsibility of bearing the burden.

It is easier to write of the difficulty of voicing the experience than of the experience itself. How do I select from the galaxy of emotions that I recall; how order the candidate sentences; where do I even start? Do I begin with the way he lived; the way he died; the way we go on; or what no longer goes on, now that he is gone? A few years ago, I wrote about several of my memories of christmas, culminating in the christmas of his death and the scattering of ashes; only such an oblique method seemed possible, since a direct approach was less surmountable than a sheer cliff.

If I talk about the way he dignified his illness with a grace I can't imagine anyone exceeding; or the pang of pain at his death that no anticipation could deaden; or the way that time, which so many said would heal, is for that reason, the very enemy of grief; if I put into words any of these or other countless confessions, then it is only as a laboratory scientist handles toxic germs or radioactive metals with gloved and levered tongs through reinforced glass and platinum barriers.

Only by pushing away the significance of experience can it be diminished enough to be compressed inside words. An eclipse cannot be viewed directly, but projected as a phantom through a pinhole. Or perhaps it is more like the everyday landscape when inverted in the darkness of the camera obscura. Perhaps it may be like the shadows on the wall of the cave: perhaps the direct experience reveals less than its shadowplay, since the hands working the spectacle disappear off the stage.

The facts and experiences are no less mundane, bleak and irredeemable for bearing such volatile emotions: but maybe the alienated handling of them with ever new words, the constant renewing of the bare events with repeated efforts to give them voice, are what produces new meaning and new significance each time, and create some sort of sense out of the senselessness of brutal reality.

Categories: xmas, dad, grief, words, meaning,
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