Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Meaning of the Word “Gone”

This has been a tough couple of weeks all around. My husband has been dealing with more medical tests for a mysterious ailment and we've been to more doctors than you can count lately. He's feeling okay, though, and while I'm sure this all stems from his Year of Bad Health, it's nothing like that particular ordeal. Stuff like this seems to happen in September, it seems. The end of Summer and the beginning of Fall has been difficult for my family for many years. Our father and one of my sister’s children died suddenly – years apart, but both on the day before school started.

When my father died, I was nineteen, and I remember thinking that until someone you love dies, you don’t really know the meaning of the word “gone”. It means more than just physical absence; it’s a hole in the universe. The entire world you knew is sucked into it, and you come out the other end to find yourself on an entirely different planet. No matter how much you hate it, you’re going to have to live there for the rest of your life.

So you do the best you can, like it or not, to build a new life, because what else can you do? And you do build a life, and you’re even happy again, eventually. But nothing is ever the same again.

Years ago, I was a department head at a university library while a new wing was being built on the building. My departmental offices and reading room was to be relocated to the new wing, but my very large, closed, special collection of books was to stay in the old building. (A “closed” collection, for the uninitiated, means that the public is not allowed into the book stacks. You have to look up what you want in the catalog, and the staff person goes and retrieves it for you. And, yes, it’s a pain.) The idea was that they would knock a door in the wall between the old and new sections, providing us access to our books.

Then, one fine day, the director called me in and told me that there wasn’t enough money left to put in the door. so we were going to be left with our offices and a reading room in one building and the books in another and no way to get from one to another without a ten minute trip from hither to yon. This was not the first time, nor would it be the last, that I sat in the director’s office watching the walls melt, feeling like I had Dali to the left of me and Kafka to the right, stuck in the middle again. After a long, passionate discussion, he promised to reconsider (ya think?), but when I left his office, I was so frustrated and wrung out that I went back into the stacks and burst into tears.

Naturally, one of my colleages stumbled across me, and alarmed, asked me what was wrong. I babbled out the door story, and he listened sympathetically. There was absolutely nothing he could do to help me, so after standing there helplessly for a minute, he clapped me on the back and said, “Well, have a nice day,” and left. It was so absurd that I laughed.

The Great Door Incident was only rediculous, not tragic, but I mention it because of what that colleage did for me. He listened to me and sympathized, and even though he was really helpless, he made me laugh. He didn’t change the situation, but he gave me strength.

By the way, I did get the door. However, the world with all those lost loved ones in it is gone forever, and we survivors are still trying to make a home on this new planet.


hannah Dennison said...

Donis - your post today is very apt. There must be something in the air because I've learned of three very difficult health issues happening to people close to me. It reminds me of a dear friend whose father had passed many years before but when his mother died in her nineties, he said "I'm an orphan now." My friend wasn't a child, he was sixty-eight years old. We seem to think being older (and wiser) that we can cope/accept the inevitable but you are right, nothing is ever be the same again. We simply adjust to living on that new planet and somewhere, somehow "finding the funny."

Susan Russo Anderson said...

Beautifully written. Thanks, Susan

Aline Templeton said...

Donis, I so feel for you. I lost my father just before my twentieth birthday, while I was still young enough to believe that nothing was too bad to happen. It is 'never glad, confident morning' again. But if we never experienced pain and grief, we couldn't write about it - a tiny consolation.
Do hope your husband's year of ill-health is soon over.

Vicki Delany said...

A lovely article, Donis. And so well said. Thanks.

Charlotte Hinger said...

Donis, I wanted to respond to your post, but everything I tried to write sounded too tearful. So I stopped trying. I can't believe how little I knew about widowhood! I just hate it.

Donis Casey said...

Charlotte, I actually thought of you when I wrote this.