A year after receiving my B.A., I broke up with the guy I had been in love with in college. We each moved on afterward. He married and had a family and a good career. I knew he had been ill in recent years, with a difficult-to-identify illness. About a month ago, his wife called to say that he had died.
I went to his memorial service over the weekend, which, however beautiful, was pregnant with the bits of a harrowing story. His illness was terrible, a gradual diminution of his being that his wife and children had struggled for years to bear and incorporate into their own healthy lives. And only now had their father been utterly borne away. They were resolved and dignified in the face of an extraordinarily cruel pain.
I mentioned to a confidante how strange it was to confront the end of a person once so much a part of my own life’s story. Eve, as I shall call her, having lost her husband in her early forties, is sadly wise when it comes to mourning. She knows the absolute nature of loss. When I told her of my friend, she said: “When that page is turned, a chapter in your life is ending too.” In her formulation, when a loved one dies, a certain part of oneself is also lost and must be mourned, too. That chapter in life (in her case, a supremely happy marriage) can never be returned to. Instead, one is confronted with a new blank page, whose contents are for the bereaved to invent, to imagine.
Eve relied on this concept to endure the pain of her husband’s loss. Occasionally she allowed herself to revisit the past in memory, but generally she forced it into this compartment, limiting the otherwise limitless pain and allowing herself to experience the present as new.