From “Nobody’s Son,” a painful, lovely and secular piece of grief writing by Mark Slouka in The New Yorker.
I don’t want to be misunderstood: I’m not selling this as any kind of blueprint, any kind of three- or five- or eight-step program to anything at all; as far as I can tell, there is no after-map or, more precisely, we each begin making our own the instant the news reaches us that someone we loved is gone. Which is unsettling: this terra is your own, brother, and as incognita as they come. Kübler-Ross? Sorry, the good doctor can’t help you here. The run-up to death may have its stages, as clearly marked as the Tour de France, but past Paris, so to speak, for those remaining on the field, things get fuzzy quick.
No search engine can find you. The guides have disappeared—they don’t know this place. And what were you going to do, anyway, Google: “Dad, who used to tip up sixty-pound rocks so I could grab the red-backed salamanders hiding underneath them when I was four”? No, in the aftermath of loss, the ones you love will keep you whole, but the journey is yours alone. Whatever you do, whatever you feel, becomes the map.
So it’s a problem. Because I miss him. Because I want to tear down this fucking wall between us with my hands. Because the angels and the harps don’t work for me. Because it wasn’t Our Heavenly Father who carried me out to the car at dawn when I was a child, who laid me down on the back seat of the DeSoto and covered me, who was there as I grew, who embarrassed me, disappointed me, loved me.
Slouka combines a tribute to his father with his own willingness to strip his grief bare and share it with the reader. He ends with an imagined conversation in which his father offers this advice:
“You don’t love me less by living more. Live! Live like you mean it.”