Tuesday, Jul 29, 2003
Things are very different when death comes in the middle of a life, and not at the end. In a thousand ways the life seems to go on, a dotted line continuing along the trail of what would have been solid if not for the sudden stop; electric bills, friends calling. The memory of an ongoing life, where we find ourselves stopping mid-thought to factor in this course correction in the midst of thinking our everyday thoughts.
I can't speak for other families and other tragedies, but one of the gifts my family has unspokenly given to each other is that of uncorrected tense. "Dad likes to do" this, or "Dad buys these kinds of trinkets on trips." Though it's been nearly a month, we all tend to put phrases like this in the present instead of the past, more often than not, though none of us mentions it.
Maybe we all have our own reasons. I can think of several. Functional fixedness, or habit, is an obvious possibility. I'm sure some out there might think it's denial. For me, it's an unconscious manifestation of the idea that what my dad was and is lives on. In so much as these qualities (that the present-tense comments are usually describing) shape our feelings about him, those qualities still live on. Naturally Dad doesn't literally take pictures at every possible opportunity anymore, but the quality that he takes pictures at every opportunity remains.
Like I said, I don't know the cause of this tense in the rest of my family, but I do know that we share the common emotion, the common little gift that we give each other whenever it happens. We don't correct each other. We don't force each other to open our hearts wide to the truth, like the harsh glare of the sun after a matinee. Instead we take the small comfort that we still can talk about Dad this way, that he's here and along for the ride, and not just a stop along the way.
Maybe over the years we'll migrate to "used to" and "I remember how he," but even then the focus will be on the living, and on the action, not the cessation. I'm proud of my family for this combination of maturity and support, that we're in a common struggle and gather strength from it, without pushing each other down to keep ourselves up.
This 'gift of tense' is just one of the things that makes this time more bearable.
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