The Death of a Parent, Part 2

In a recent post I described an article by novelist Mark Slouka on the effect that his father’s death had on him. I provided a few quotes from the article, each followed by my reflections. Here are some more quotes, again accompanied by my comments.

Mark Slouka. Image from chronicle.uchicago.edu.

Mark Slouka. Image from chronicle.uchicago.edu.

“The problem, you see, is that I didn’t think he’d ever die, that his voice would ever be gone from this world. I knew it, but I didn’t, just like I know now that he’s dead—I can talk about it, can report it to the Social Security Administration, which sends its condolences—but I don’t, not really. I’m having trouble with the word “gone.” Gone where? For how long?”

Isn’t that the irrationality of grief? To both know the loved one is gone and at the same time know it can’t be so. Life seems to be solid and unending, yet at the same time it is this utterly fragile, ephemeral thing. We are caught between its permanence and its transience.

“It needs to be said: in some strange way, my father’s death has made the thought of dying easier. The door opened, and he walked through it successfully; the land of the dead is a peopled place for me now because he’s there, somewhere. And, because he’s done it, because he’s pulled this thing off, it’s become conceivable for me as well.”

None of us travels into totally uncharted territory; always, there is someone who has gone before. Could the death of a parent be at least in some cases a gift that prepares us for our last journey? Is his or her death thereby a gift?

“Six months in, the heart, the soul, the spine, begin to regenerate. Slowly. In moments of weakness, his voice saves me, which is appropriate. He was my father. Is.

“Don’t be stupid, he says. You don’t love me less by living more. Live! Live like you mean it.

“You could do worse for fatherly advice. And so I’ll take it.”

For those of us who know (or knew) our parents well, their voice never leaves us. Slouka’s father continues to give good advice! I’m convinced that both my dad and my mom will be speaking to me throughout my life, and I’m thankful for that.

I recommend Slouka’s article to anyone dealing with the loss of a parent.

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About bobritzema

I am a fourth-generation American of Dutch ancestry and am trained as a clinical psychologist. In 2012, I retired from Methodist University in North Carolina to return to my parents' home and provide them with assistance. I maintain part-time therapy practices in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Fayetteville, North Carolina. I currently worship at Square Inch Community Church in Grand Rapids. I can be reached at bobritzema@hotmail.com.
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