“What is loss,” asks Matthew Goulish in his introduction to Will Daddario’s chapbook To Grieve, “but an instance of the extreme ephemeral, for which one finds oneself unprepared, for which could never prepare? Is it accurate to say that loss makes its day extraordinary? It’s the ordinary we lose, as it transforms it into a treasure.” Writing grief is one way of tracing out a pathway back to some semblance of, if not the old “ordinary,” a new normal. For oneself, firstly and, in the sharing of the experience, for others who may, in time, require a trail of signs and symbols as they chart their own paths.
In this short, emotionally measured essay, part of the Dossier Series from Ugly Duckling Presse, Daddario unspools the knotted threads of grief that followed the fifteen-month period that began with the sudden death of his father, counted a number of significant losses—his grandmother, a close friend and a beloved pet—and ended with the stillbirth of his son, Finlay, his first child. As he navigated a course through the flood of emotions, he turned, as a writer and a scholar, not just to the writing of others, but to the very structure of language itself. If grief, as he tells us, “does not reside within you but, rather, exists outside” and works its way into your system no matter how you might endeavour to hold it at a distance, the cliché expressions that are offered to describe the process often fall hollow, yet the feelings seem to be bound these same cliches, so the articulation of the experience of grieving, invites the search for a new vocabulary. Turning to a range of literary, spiritual, and poetic resources, Daddario seeks guidance to “re-write the script of depression” that settled in on him in the months after his series of losses. The resulting journey is one that is both idiosyncratic and universal.
In their individual and shared efforts (“together alone” and “alone together”) to make sense of their son’s death, Daddario and his wife Joanne take a cue from Barthes’ Mourning Diary and record reflections on scraps of paper and gather them in a jar. On Finlay’s first birthday, they read through them. A selection of these collected thoughts, lends a loose frame to this broader exploration of grief. The weight of the emptiness that has descended into their lives is resonant in these fragments of immediate, unmediated grief, forming a counterpoint to Daddario’s more carefully and logically paced analysis of this early period of mourning observed and recounted from a place of some greater distance along. The true beauty of this short book lies not so much in any radical revisioning of grief, but in the poetic voice the grieving son and father gives to a process that can linger, seemingly suspended, at the edges of our lives in the aftermath of loss, leaving us to wonder: How long does this take?
Grief neither takes nor gives. It rushes in from the outside and inaugurates a new temporal existence that will be unique to each person or group who grieves. Another lesson of grief arises here: grief makes time, in the sense that you must now make a calendar for yourself that honours the nature of your existence. Rather than asking “how long will it take,” you can try this: what time will grief make, and what will you make within grief’s duration?
To Grieve is a thoughtful and intelligent meditation. It is also a heartrending tribute, as both a son and a father, to a father, an infant son and, before the final draft was complete, a stepfather as well. As love expands, so does grief. As I’ve mentioned before, in 2016 I lost both of my parents within eleven days of one another, followed a little over a month later by the suicide of one of my dearest friends. These deaths sit within the context of other ungrieved losses I’ve carried. Thus, it is impossible to read about grief as someone still in the midst of grieving a complex network of cicumstances, without taking one’s own pulse along the way. I did, and many of my responses are personal, sketched into my notebook. Proof, if any is needed, that this gentle chapbook is a worthy addition to the literature of, in Daddario’s own terms, grieving and “re-membering.”
To Grieve by Will Daddario is available from Ugly Duckling Presse.
4 thoughts on “Ever a son and a father: To Grieve by Will Daddario”
What a generous gift for those in mourning! I hope Daddario found some solace in writing it.
So true that we can’t prepare…
Interesting that idea of the glass jar: so often we read of couples whose marriage doesn’t withstand a loss and the subsequent plunge into grief. One of the things I have learned about grief is that, actually, it makes no difference whether you have a partner or not because grief is so personal, no one else understands your grief even though they might well have their own about exactly the same loss. And accepting that painful truth, that it’s a personal life journey that we all have to experience, is part of the process. (Unless you never love anyone at all which would be a loss in itself).
I think that modern media has sold us the idea that there is always someone who understands us completely, but it simply isn’t true. It’s a chimera…
LikeLiked by 1 person
This essay does address the differences in their responses to the death of their son, but the nature of grief differed too because the author had lost several other key people in the months leading up to the stillbirth. It also acknowledges that they were grieving together and alone.
I will say that without anyone in my personal life to offer support—even cliches—was very difficult. My brothers had extended families;I was the one with two children also grieving. I received more real support at times from total strangers online. Support from reading and other shared experience is also a key element of this book. I remember when it first came out in early 2017 and at the time I was not ready for any grief reading. It is only now that I am in the right space.
I know what you mean about not being ready. I am still avoiding books that enter that territory. Years ago a well-meaning friend suggested CS Lewis to me after the death of the only friend I had kept from my school days, and it enraged me.
I suspect that reading about other people’s journeys of grief probably isn’t any use as far as being prepared is concerned. The only thing that has ever helped me is knowing the Kubler-Ross stages of grief, and even if they don’t fit exactly to my own personal experiences, they give me hope that there will be light at the end of the tunnel.
LikeLiked by 1 person