Nothing is Something

In a book I just finished reading, a kid insisted that nothing was something. The comment was irrelevant to the story; it was just one of those things authors throw in there because they can. My mind did not skim over the idea as it normally would have, nor did it start philosophizing about somethings and nothings. Instead, my mind immediately shifted to thoughts of the “nothing” that is left behind after someone intrinsic to our life dies. That void inside us — that nothing — is definitely a something. We feel it in the very depths of our being long after the loved one leaves us.

The definition of “nothing” is “the absence of a something or particular thing that one might expect or desire to be present.” And boy, do we desire the presence of our loved one. We also expect them to be present. For years, every time I answered the phone, I expected it to be him telling me I could come home. I knew it was impossible, and of course, that expectation came to naught.

That expectation as well as the great yearning that so consumed me during the first years of grief are finally gone, replaced by . . . I’m not sure what, exactly. It’s not really nostalgia, more like a restructuring of his absence. Instead of yearning for him, I talk casually to him. Or rather, I talk to his picture. The photo — the same one I could not look at for years after he died because it brought me great pain — sits on the bedside table on the opposite side of where I sleep. I’ve gotten into the habit recently of telling him I miss him, talking about my day, and asking him about what’s going on with him. This is a very short conversation, mostly just a few sentences on my part as I get ready for bed, and none on his part. Though to be honest, if that photo ever answered me, I’d be scared out of whatever wits I have.

Despite this new, rather pleasant permutation of my grief, I can still feel the void he left behind as a physical thing. I shouldn’t be able to feel that — right? — because after all, a void by definition is an empty space. And yet, there it is, an emptiness, a nothingness that seems to color my life, just as his somethingness once colored it.

And, after more than eleven years of his being gone, it’s beginning to look as if that nothing/something inside me will be a permanent fixture for the rest of my life.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

4 Responses to “Nothing is Something”

  1. Estragon Says:

    I’ve also wondered about the “nothing is something” thing, and my guess is nothing is still nothing in a discrete sense, but a something in sense of a larger system.

    For example, if our sun were to disappear suddenly, about 1/2 of the earth would get suddenly dark roughly 15 minutes later. With my limited knowledge of gravity, I assume the earth and the rest of our solar system would destabilize at the speed of light as well. Eventually, the universe would regain a semblance of gravitational equilibrium (even if our prognosis as a species didn’t allow for us to see it). Either way, the universe ultimately exists in a semblance of equilibrium, but the absence changes what that looks like. Extending the metaphor further, the equilibrium state after the sun is gone (but having existed) would also look different than had the sun never existed at all.

    Maybe you’ve reached a sort of mental and emotional equilibrium, where you aren’t the same as if the sun never existed, or as if it still existed, but a semblance of equilibrium nevertheless.

  2. Uthayanan Says:

    Beautifully expressed.
    Your topic remind me another word something better than nothing.
    I am sorry Pat what is happening with you already happening to me and after elven years I will have the same feeling.
    At the moment I can’t look her photos. But I have an idea to have her photo near by bedside for a long time.
    As you said “ Despite this new, rather pleasant permutation of my grief, I can still feel the void he left behind as a physical thing” I feel the same.
    Like a child with grief I crawl with four legs later try to stand, walk and run.
    Whatever I will become her love and her personality going to to stay with me forever. Just as you said :
    “ will be a permanent fixture for the rest of my life.”
    Please take care

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I’ve often used a “child of grief” analogy because when they die, we are born again into a world of grief. And yes, as newly borns, we need to learn to crawl, then gradually learn to stand and walk and run. Well, maybe not run, at least for me, but I’m glad to be at the walking stage.


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