7 May 2014

the fears of reading

As I mentioned earlier, I’ll be reading from my The M Word essay on Thursday night at Russell Books. I’ll be honest with you, I’m fairly nervous. Nervous because, while usually I love to read my work and know I can give a good performance, I’ve only ever read poetry. Not only this is prose, this is memoir-prose. And it’s not funny, or light. No, the essay I’m reading, “What Can’t Be Packed Away” is about loss.

Here I am in the airport, writing this, after a rush visit with my parents in my home town. Rushed, because my father was brought to emergency late Thursday night with heart failure. He’s home now, much better than the when he went in, but I will tell you that when rereading my essay to see what sections to read on Thursday night, I have a pang of guilt.

In the essay, which is largely about the fear of loss of my children, I wrote:
My father has been diagnosed with a terminal neurological condition. He is seventy-six. I know I should feel sadder than I do, but I can’t help but think: yes, this is how it should be. We hate to use the term, “old,” but yes, he is old. He is elderly. Of course, we would like another ten or twenty years with him, but I can’t help but whisper gratitude to the universe for choosing him over one of my children. This is how my superstition works.

And now, here I am, leaving from seeing my father so close to his own death to read to a group of strangers from this essay, I feel uneasy. It will be difficult reading an essay that explores the death of children I knew and the imagined deaths of my own children with this paragraph and my recent experience with my father so fresh. Frankly, it feels like I’m tempting fate.

I’m not shy about death. I think we need to talk about it in the world much more than we do, that we need to open about grief and loss. It is the only thing in life that unites us—we will face the deaths of those we love, we will die ourselves.

I’m reading Wallace Stegner’s All The Little Live Things right now and there is a lot about death in the book, a lot of talk and philosophizing. There are about two pages worth of quotes I’d like to copy out for you, but I’ve chosen this:

“It’s right there should be death in the world, it’s as natural as being born. We’re all apart of a big life pool, and we owe the world the space we fill and the chemicals we’re made of. Once we admit it’s not an abstraction, but something we do personally owe, it shouldn’t be hard.”

I don’t agree with Stegner’s character Marian, here. I think it death is always hard (though hard isn't the right word, either), but I think there should be more ways in this world to help us with death. Death doulas, choices, and more rituals/ceremonies, but this is a big topic and one for an essay, I think.

Now, I hope I haven’t scared you off coming to the reading tomorrow night. The M Word is an exceptional anthology, so many important essays in it. Please come and join the conversation.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

Yes, that feeling of tempting fate -- I know just what you mean. What complicated & difficult circumstances to be reading your essay in -- I hope it goes well. (There was an interesting piece in The Guardian [theguardian.com] on being a death doula this weekend -- I often think of how much we prepare for birth & how little, or how hidden, preparation for death is).