Life changes fast.
Life changes in the instant.
That’s how Joan Didion begins what I consider to be one of the truest treatments of grief—The Year of Magical Thinking. Prior to February 23, 2021, I bet I’d read Didion’s book ten times, at least. Why? Well, in addition to a book about death and loss, it’s also a book about love. In other words, it’s a love story, and I’m a sucker for love stories. We currently seem hesitant to shine too much light on love stories for fear of being seen or called out as sentimental. To my mind, you’re either sentimental or you’re cold and most likely brittle.
Yes, Ms. Didion, you are correct—life changes fast.
I reek. I don’t want to stink, didn’t make a conscious choice to smell. But the stench of death is on me, and I cannot scrub it or wish it away. I can sense it, and I feel others can too, even if they don’t know my father died almost a month ago. I’d prefer to say I now walk with a limp, like one who wrestled with God. But that would be trying to shoehorn my foot into some dainty slipper, make the experience somehow acceptable, make the image fit. It doesn’t fit, not at all. Instead, I say it feels like a scarlet D has been sewn into my skin, leaving a grievous wound so those around me, especially the ones I love, don’t know what to do with me.
I don’t know what to do with me either.
Whether you loved him or hated him, once you stand over your father’s lifeless frame, you are no longer the same. You are changed in the instant.
So like a shatter’d column lay the King;
Not like that Arthur who…charged
Before the eyes of ladies and of kings.
—Tennyson, “Morte d’Arthur”