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