Chapter 22 of Emily Rapp’s memoir The Still Point of the Turning World opens with a quote from Franz Kafka, “By scribbling I run ahead of myself in order to catch myself up at the finishing post. I cannot run away from myself.”
I cannot run away from myself.
Running away from yourself is exactly what you wish to do when you experience the dying of someone you love. And imagine if the one dying is your child? You will say to me (as people have said to Rapp), “I can’t imagine that.” But you can, Rapp would argue, and you do, which is why people like her, the mother of a dying (and now, sadly, dead) child make us so uncomfortable. They represent an inconvenient truth and that truth is that we are all of us dying as we live and that includes our children, too, though we dare not acknowledge that truth. We dare not.
Rapp had no choice but to acknowledge the truth of her son’s impending death. Indeed, she faced it head on. Still, she does not spill her tears on the page. She doesn’t ask for pity. She doesn’t want platitudes or euphemism She doesn’t want hugs. And, most certainly, she does not want anyone to say to her, “I’m sorry.”
She just wants you to be present in your life and in the lives of those you love.
Reading this book brought up all kinds of complicated emotions in me. Mostly, though, what I felt was grief: for those I’ve lost, for those I will lose someday, for myself. I grieved for Ronan. I grieved for all of the children who have died and who are dying.
Grief is not necessarily a weeping thing, as Rapp shows us within this book. What it is is an animal thing. An animal thing like giving birth. Grief is uncontrollable, as is dying, as is giving birth.
My husband and I have always talked openly (in an age-appropriate way) about death with our son. We don’t say things like “passed away” or “gone to live with the angels” no matter how tempting they are. He is interested in my parents, his maternal grandparents. I show him pictures. We talk about them. Recently, I let him take out and examine several objects of my father’s that I have. A leather box. A leather key holder.
He wrote a note (with my help) to my father asking him to leave a sign if he was a friendly ghost. He placed is in the key holder and said he would go back the next day to check. The next morning, when there was no note, he was disappointed, but said it was what he expected. He did just as I have done countless times, asking for a sign from those I have loved who have died. Show me that you still exist. Show me that there is something more.
Even as he learns of these dead people, even as he falls in love with them, he also learns how to let them go. He learns how to grieve them just as his young mind begins to understand what sad means.
Yesterday, I found two photos in frames I’d forgotten about. One was of my mother as an infant and then other of a my father as a young boy. I handed these photos to my son and told him who they were and he said, “I love them so much.”