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28 Sep

It’s My Story And I’ll Cry If I Want To

You need to get over this.

I hope you’ll get over this and start writing about other stuff again soon.

It’s terrible what happened, but you need to remember that there’s worse. You didn’t lose a child.

Some people get hate mail. I get hate mail, but I also get mail of a slightly different strain: well-intentioned mail that aims at constructive criticism but lands somewhere in the area of a belly punch.

You need to get over this.

There are worse things.

You didn’t lose a child.

I don’t know if the authors meant for their words to hurt, but hurt they did. I can no more make myself get over my grief than I can make myself stop loving my husband and my children, nor do I want to: my grief over my father’s death is part of me now, part of the emotional landscape that undergirds my whole lifeworld. But my critics – if I can call them that – didn’t mean that I should resolve my grief. They meant that I should stop writing about it. Because, it seems, the death of a parent, while painful, doesn’t warrant long-form narrative consideration. It might be sad, sure, but it’s not the death of a child.

Which, no, it’s not. Nothing compares to the death of a child. But then again, nothing compares to a tsunami, or genocide, or terrorist attacks, or, for that matter, suicide or murder or accidents in bathtubs or long painful illnesses or being struck by a meteor. Tragedies shouldn’t be compared. Anything that causes the human heart to shatter so utterly should not be analyzed for comparative purposes. Facing the pain of loved ones, facing the loss of loved ones – these can cause unbearable, immeasurable pain, irrespective of the who and the why and the how. Such pain can’t be ranked on a scale, weighed against other hurts, other griefs. It’s just pain. Its weight is infinite.

I’ve seen enough Disney movies to know that the Death Of A Parent is just part of The Circle Of Life, and that I should be approaching my own personal tragedy philosophically, that I should be learning from this and embracing my role as my father’s legacy and marching bravely forward and Moving On. But life isn’t a Disney movie, and I’m struggling, because my father’s unexpected death knocked the wind out of me, literally and figuratively, and some days all I can do is sit, gasping, overwhelmed by the pain, the shock of having the landscape of my life so suddenly and irrevocably altered, of having lost, in such a sudden and terrible way, this person who I loved so much and wanted so badly to protect. That pain defies my narrative abilities, and yet narration is all that I have, is my only way through the pain. To be told that I should just get over it, that I should stop struggling to tell the story, stop working through my grief on the page and understand the lowly place of my tragedy in the greater scheme of All Possible Terrible Tragedies and adjust my narrative attitude accordingly  – because, really, this story is of very limited appeal, is it not? Where would Disney be if Bambi had spent the whole story in mourning? – hits in a very sore place, a place that I was only dimly aware that I had, a place where all the vulnerabilities of the heart meet all the insecurities of the ego. It hurts there.

This is partly, I suppose, a problem of genre. I am a mommy-blogger, and so some would expect that the lens through which I view tragedy always be adjusted according to the terms of that genre. For a parent, there is – at least according to the literary conventions of written parenthood – no greater horror than the loss of a child, and so as a writer who writes, mostly, about the experience of being a parent, I might reasonably be expected to measure any tragedy against that most dreaded of tragedies and to realize – and, I suppose, to publicly proclaim – that I haven’t suffered the worst tragedy that one can suffer and to be thankful for that and then – of course – to move on. But I am not just a mommy blogger, nor I am just a mommy or a mother or a mom. I was and am and always will be, too, a daughter.

A daughter who just lost her father. It’s going to take me some time to work through that.