Sunday, October 10, 2010


I have been trying, in recent writing and thinking, to map out one conversation that I began in large part through this blog after Katie's death. That conversation is about living with and after the violent death of a spouse. Even the phrase, "living with and after the violent death of a spouse" feels well-examined and appropriate, maybe even rehearsed. On the one hand, I have set firmly in my mind many of the markers of Katie and I's life together and life after her death. I don't find much to admire in the stages approach to grieving, but the intense emotion I felt after Katie's death, in many directions, has cooled and reshaped itself into gratitude and appreciation. I've tried to document that, here, and I think I've done an okay job. On the other hand, ironically, distance seems like a really good place from which to write about and understand things. Is it appropriate to continue to pursue a writing project when I'm not sure: 1) I want to say anything more, and 2) whether I really have anything more to say?

Certain obvious tropes about this kind of writing do not shape how I think about it. I am not writing to keep my dead alive, nor am I worried that, if I stop writing, Katie will somehow disappear or pass on from my life. Symbolic "deaths" are pale imitations of the real thing. And yet, to quote Robert Hass, there are limits to imagination, and so, limits to the connections we can invent and sustain, whatever our intentions. There is a wonderful literary/art project up currently at The Owls, in which authors respond in 200 words or less to photographs from Ben Walters's graffiti-tunnel series. The range of content posted so far is surprisingly grim: stories about death, murder, baseball, siblings, victims, tragedy. I wonder if, the more compressed our stories become, the more limited our tonal range becomes in narrating the experiences in those stories. Of course, photographs of graffiti might by default suggest stories about grime, grit, transgression, etc.

These last six weeks, while awake with Walt for middle-of-the-night feedings, I have rewatched the first six seasons of The Office. I first watched The Office while living in Indiana, during the year after Katie's death. I had held off on watching it until then because I was a strict fan of the British-Ricky Gervais Office, and I believed that watching the American version of The Office would only dilute my devotion (I am prone to such ridiculous postures). Anyway, once I started watching, I was hooked. I remember staying up late to watch The Office, watching it first thing in the morning, rewatching especially wonderful episodes, and crying--giant, man-sized tears--when Pam made her big speech to Jim during the Beach Games episode. My devotion to The Office made me realize, and feel comfortable with via many degrees of separation, something about which I initially felt a great deal of shame: I missed being in love and I wanted to love again. Maybe that wasn't such a remarkable desire; it seems now pretty reasonable and, given how I am programmed, inevitable. Then, I couldn't and didn't want to do much with that realization, and I also didn't want to deny it. It was there, at a very safe distance from reality, courtesy of Dunder-Mifflin.

Walt's arrival and first six weeks of existence deserve more of an acknowledgment than a mere sidebar reference via The Office, but that's one of the limits with this blog. It's a blog about grief, and living with and after...well, you know how the rest goes. I cannot stop writing about these things, but I worry more and more that what I continue to have to say about them is, well, prosaic. Transformations, like deaths, only happen once (maybe understanding them takes longer). There is living with death, living after death, loving again. And then there is all of the getting on, meaning, wonder, passion, fortune, senselessness, fear, and unpredictability/instability that is life still after that. Katie hated feeling pinned down. She fiercely safeguarded a considerable degree of personal freedom. I don't want to make her life just some occasion for my evolution as a human being; I don't want to trap her, here, without some tonic perspective. I also can't think of a better tribute to her role in my life, our love and life together, and my memory of that.

In a couple of weeks, KMF will gather for our third annual Fun Run & Walk, followed by our annual meeting. I've said plenty, previously, about what Katie's name means to the thousands of strangers who apply each year for her scholarships. I do want to say that this year, we'll talk during our annual meeting with the 2010 scholarship recipients, and I'm really looking forward to that conversation. The meeting is open to the public and you're invited and very welcome to join us at the conference room of The Comfort Inn in Antioch, IL on Saturday, 10/23, at 12pm.

I miss writing with the certainty and authority that elegy required of me. Working to understand death, and living with death, made the page seem especially bright and empty. I sometimes miss feeling sad and hopeless, and those great, if wild and desperate, stabs at meaning and clarity that often followed. "I am a good uncle" is one that comes especially to mind, but probably this blog is full of them. Still, it's one thing to clear the air and do something new, another entirely to keep filling the room with smoke.

What a terrible show The Office would have been if they had decided to keep dialing back, speeding up, dialing back, speeding up the Jim and Pam thing, a la Ross and Rachel, Maddie and David, et al. The pregnancy, Jim's fake then real proposals, the house, the wedding, the baby, nursing the wrong baby at the hospital, the Michael Scott Paper Company sales team, Jim as co-manager: wonderful stuff. I've never done a coal walk and I imagine I am past the point in my life when I might. And, anyway, similes are the weakest kind of comparison (think: life is like a box of chocolates), so instead, I'll close with this.