What Owen doesn’t know

Pretty much my entire world view is shaped by, or maybe I should say supported by, The New Yorker magazine.   I read it all, cover to cover, every week.

A relatively short piece caught my eye last month – “Over the Wall“, by Roger Angell (Nov 19 2012 issue).   The author’s wife died earlier this year; he wrote a meandering piece about continuing with the business of living while his wife has to miss everything.  The passage below sat with me for many days after reading it.

(The reference to ‘over the wall’ in the title and in this excerpt is from a dream of  his son, who on the night of his mother’s death dreamed that she flew away from him over the low wall in Central Park.)

“What the dead don’t know piles up, though we don’t notice it at first.  They don’t know how we’re getting along without them, of course, dealing with the hours and days that now accrue so quickly, and, unless they divined this somehow in advance, they don’t know that we don’t want this inexorable onslaught of breakfasts and phone calls and going to the bank, all this stepping along, because we don’t want anything extraneous to get in the way of what we feel about them or the ways we want to hold them in mind.  But, they’re in a hurry, too, or so it seems.  Because nothing is happening with them, they are flying away, over the wall, while we are still chained and handcuffed to the weather and the iPhone, to the hurricane and the election and to the couple that’s recently moved in downstairs, in Apartment 2-S, with a young daughter and a new baby girl, and we’re flying off in the opposite direction at a million miles an hour.  It would take many days now, just to fill Carol in.”

(Excerpt reprinted under laws governing ‘fair use’.  I hope.)



    • Hi Louise – not sure where to start with your question! I suppose you’re asking if I believe that Owen’s soul has endured in some way, beyond his sentient life…? Of course I have no idea. I do like the thought. But I don’t wonder about it or take comfort in assuming that that is true. My connection with Owen endures through memory – without that I don’t think I would be cognizant of Owen having a ‘current’ presence.

  1. After my dad died I had a number of unusual occurrences that made me feel he was communicating to me.

    One example: The night he died he wanted us to sing to him and after we’d exhausted all the hymns, I sang a couple of songs I used to sing my kids. One was “Skinna ma rinky dinky dink” by Sharon Lois and Bram. It’s such a silly song but I tried so hard in the singing of those words to convey to him how much I loved him and to try to make him feel safe.

    The Monday I returned to work there was a voice mail waiting for me from the school. Sharon Lois and Bram, who were retired and not performing, were coming to Bloorview to do a special performance for the school (one of their grandchildren went there). I almost fell off my chair because I felt my dad was telling me he was going to give me front-row seats.

    That was one of many striking experiences — including one where I heard him in my mind say he didn’t want me to be sad — but it wasn’t a regular kind of hearing, like of someone’s voice — it was like a knowing that was communicated. At the same time I felt heat in my stomach which caused me to fall into a deep, peaceful sleep and I never again felt the terrible regret I’d had about things I hadn’t done for my Dad before he died.

    The night my Dad died I took him a book about the Group of Seven painters, which he loved. Two weeks later, my mom went to a church luncheon and was astounded to find it was held in a private home that was filled with original Group of Seven paintings. Again — I felt like my dad was saying “Aren’t they marvellous?”

    Hospice nurses have written about experiences families have. There’s a book by Elizabeth Kubler Ross (I think called Life after death) and she recounts things that children told her when they were dying that would have been impossible for them to know, and how it led her to believe in some kind of after-life (e.g. in one instance a child told her that a relative wanted her to go stay with him — the person had been in the same car accident — but the child hadn’t been told that the relative had died).

    Of course they may be coincidences.

    That’s what made me wonder.

    • Thanks for sharing Louise.

      I have occasionally found comfort in ‘talking’ to Owen and looking for (and finding) synchronicities related to his life and death. But I also believe the heart and mind have immense capacities to conjure up what they need to for survival and moving forward. For myself, I see those moments as tools of self-comfort and ways to abide the grief. Coping mechanisms, so I don’t have to dwell in the emptiness for too long. But as time goes on, I’m discovering that the less energy I spend seeking explanations or comfort, the closer I am to something resembling contentment.

  2. I thought of Owen the other day on our way down to Bloorview and Malcolm mentioned him when we were there. I remember my heart feeling very full of love both times. xo

  3. Hi Jenn — Why does it have to be either/or — either all experiences that appear to have meaning /connection are manufactured as coping tools, or they aren’t.

    • I think it boils down to religious or spiritual credulity. And personal choice as to how I or you or any of us wants to interpret or integrate experiences or connections. Human searching for religious explanations is as old as the ages – not sure anyone has really figured it out yet :)

      To respond to your question: I do believe that everything we feel is at some level a coping mechanism (or human response) and how we interpret things depends on our biography, personality, culture, religious influences and intellectual rigour (among many other things). To grossly paraphrase the Buddha, the only truth is human suffering. For me, this rings more true than anything else.

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