Grieving, Reading, Perspective ....

The friend I mentioned in my piece on The Year of Magical Thinking a week before Christmas right here, ended up outlasting his doctor's and hospice nurse's expectations, and didn't pass away by Christmas, but made it to the new year, barely, dying peacefully the afternoon of January 2nd.  No surprise that he lived longer than anybody predicted.  He was an endearingly stubborn dude.  And strong.  He should've been deceased a year ago, according to his oncologist.  But he fought the cancer hard, battling his illness bravely, only succumbing when it had swarmed into his bones after God knows how many chemo treatments ultimately failed to stop it.

We got to say goodbye to him today at his memorial, and in a few weeks some of us will have the honor of spreading his ashes at one of his favorite scenic overlooks up in the local mountains.

Strange how death drains the life and vitality from not just the dying, but those left behind in its inexorable advance.  Even when it's expected, even when you've witnessed it's glacial but indefatigable pace approaching, funny how the experience sucks your emotions and, for me, energy, dry.

I've been told a few times in my life that I'm a funny guy -- funny looking, funny something -- and yet it's funny how my sense of humor has completely evaporated in 2012.  Funny how I've had zero interest in participating (or even following along, lurking) in what have been some staple online venues I've been involved with for years that have previously brought me great relief from life's and death's more difficult realities. My friend's death, at the moment, just makes all the chatter, all the banter about good books and good movies or the great outdoors seem obscenely pointless to me, and that's not the reaction I was expecting, since, as I've said, his death was not sudden, but incrementally materializing from the seemingly safe distance of a year-and-a-half out.  There was time to prepare; time to say goodbye; time to cry; time to get used to the idea of him being gone.  But the finality of death ... that's an idea, initially, that was merely some nebulous, hazy knowledge of harmless hills on my mind's horizon I could barely see -- like Catalina Island twenty-six miles off the California coast at sunset when the desert off shores have scraped the sky clean.  And now?  Turns out those distant hills weren't so far away after all, metastasizing as they did so swiftly into terrible mountains that tower so completely in my gaze I can barely capture the faint rays of perspective and acceptance that have filtered down into this chasm of grief.

Writing helps.  Talking helps.  Reading even helps too.

Besides my ongoing Steve Erickson project I've just begun and described in some detail elsewhere, I've picked up William T. Vollmann's mammoth project, Imperial, again too.  I'd begun it back in 2009 when it was originally released, but got distracted with other online obligations that forced me to put the book down and take up other -- mostly lesser books -- to read.  Being that I'm no longer obligated to read anything other than what I want to read (absolutely absurd how I'd convinced myself I was obligated to read books I couldn't give a shit about because I was the "leader" of a reading group -- a story for another time perhaps) I've re-begun Imperial and every time I've picked it up over the past week I've gotten so sweetly and forgetfully lost in it, fully immersed, forgetting about loss and life, unconscious of my own existence, I expect I'll finish it this time around.

The irony is that Imperial is about almost nothing but loss.  Yet, reading about such literally poor people whose impoverishment creates such desperation in them they'll do anything to make three or four dollars an hour in the United States, risking exploitation and death in their mostly futile attempts to cross the border, just so they can send some pitiful pittance of their earnings home to their relatives in Mexico who have it even worse, is a perfect read for regaining some much needed perspective and equanimity in my estimation.  Vollmann has that uncanny knack as a writer in which he can make the most unsavory material palatable; even pleasurable to read.  And reading about the risks Vollmann took to get these sordid and sad stories onto the page is just jaw dropping in its extremity, both inspiring and mortifying at the same time.  I've no idea how I'll possibly review a book this size (1,305 pages) but I'll figure out a way, being its the least I can do since Vollmann risked so much in researching it and writing it for ten years, not to mention the unmentionable sacrifices made by those he chronicled and the debt owed them ....

Thank God for good books and good reading glasses and just the general ability to read I've long taken for granted.

Perspective.  I feel a little better already ....


  1. So very sorry for your loss. How interesting and inspiring to find a different kind of perspective and energy in the story told in Imperial - sounds like an eye-opening read.

  2. Music and family. When laughter and literature can't speak, turn up the music and gather the family round. That was my own lesson from recent grief.

  3. Thanks, bookspersonally! I pimp Imperial and William T. Vollmann any chance I get; I hope you'll check out his work sometime; it's never not compelling ....

    Thanks, Sam (again!!)

    I should've said thank God for family too. I do remember your good wise words in your thread on the subject, when your father-in-law passed away; we're leaning hard on each other at the moment for sure.

  4. I hear you, Rique. When we get things into perspective, we, or at least I, realise that there are too many voices jabbering away in our lives. Remember that behind the banter though, are some of us who really care.

    My sympathies to you, and shared troubles also - my Grandad is dying of leukemia, and I said goodbye to him a few weeks ago, as I probably won't be able to see him again. So I understand the distant hills part, anyway.

    Hugs, CM

  5. Sorry for your loss Freeeque. Losing good friends is heartbreaking, it's like part of you dies as well.


  6. Really thinking of you, Freeque. Consider this a virtual hug.

  7. Slick! I'm try-ing to be REALLY SAD here, and there you go and make that quip and make me laugh you jerk!

    Murr, Muse, Theatrica ... thank you!


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