28 January 2012

grief is very dislocating

I lay in bed reading Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, and time and memory twisted together, in and out, tying knots here and there, until I didn't know where to start pulling to unravel it all.

The book was talking about grief—about how Major Pettigrew had lost his wife six years before, but that time has not entirely run straight since then.
"I am sorry I did not have an opportunity to meet your lovely wife," said Mrs. Ali, handing him a cup.

"Yes, she's been gone some six years now," he said. "Funny really, it seems like both an eternity and the blink of an eye all at the same time."

"It is very dislocating," she said. Her crisp enunciation, so lacking among many of his village neighbors, struck him with the purity of a well-tuned bell. "Sometimes my husband feels as close to me as you are now, and sometimes I am quite alone in the universe," she added.
Reading that, I was back in Iowa last Memorial Day weekend for my grandpa's funeral.

And I was talking to him the night before his surgery as he explained what they were going to do to his heart and how it was risky but it was a risk he had to take.
"They keep telling me, Zooey," he said, using the family nickname only he still used, "that there are three major risks." He launched into them like a businessman giving a presentation on investment strategy.

"One, my kidneys could fail. Two, my heart could fail. Three—three, damn it, I always forget this one...oh, that's right, I could die."

I didn't have the heart to ask how he could possibly forget that last one, and instead said something vaguely encouraging like, "Well, it'll all work out for the best."

Even those of us who use words for a living fail to come up with the right words at times.
And I was on a walk with my friend Katie a week after his funeral, talking about how my emotions were 3 millimeters under my skin {"Must be the grief," I told her. "Usually, I can keep them more in check but not in an unhealthy way, I promise."} and about her engagement and wedding planning and oh yes, of course, I'd be a bridesmaid.

And I was standing on my parents' back deck in Iowa, looking out over the Mississippi before the visitation and listening to a voicemail from my friend Amie. "Kamiah, I have the best idea: we should go to France and see the lavender fields in bloom in early July. Now, I know it's practically June now and I know you like planning things, but I think we can pull it off. Call me."

Time around when my grandpa died has become all smashed together—with anything that happened or was planned then.

Katie's engagement.

My trip to France.

Another friend's bridal shower.

The summer writing class I started the day before he died.

I can't think of any of those things without instantaneously feeling like right then, in that moment, the funeral is happening. But also in that moment, I'm talking to him the night before his surgery.

It is very dislocating.

As I stood, for example, at the front of the church in Katie's wedding, I was thinking of him,

and the Mayo Clinic where he'd had his surgery,

and how he couldn't remember the third complication,

and how my sister the Air Force captain stood at attention as the flag that had been draped over his coffin was folded and presented to her,

and how I'd had that talk with Katie a week after his funeral.

All those thoughts came to my mind unbidden, but they came because her engagement is tangled up with his death, and I don't know how to extricate it.

It's all mixed up in my head, all these events, and I don't think I knew how mixed up until I read about Major Pettigrew.


  1. Beautifully put.

    I started Major Pettigrew's Last Stand a couple weeks ago and was caught by that phrase too. I've been reading the book slowly, never wanting it to end.

  2. Thanks, Rachel.

    And that is precisely how I feel about Major Pettigrew's Last Stand. Let's have a race to see who can read it the slowest :)



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