Grief and Memory, by Mark Switliski

My mind has been fixated on death and grief since finishing The Summer Book by Tove Jansson. I’ve particularly been strung up by one quote from the story Of Angleworms and Others that a classmate chose during an in class discussion activity, “They realized that from now on life would be quite different, but they didn’t know how, that is, in what way” (139). The quote is part of a narration by Sophia, a young girl living on the coast of Finland with her father and grandmother, about the thought process of a worm that has just been severed in half. The bisection is the result of a traumatic event, which, in Sophia’s case, is the recent death of her mother. With regards to death, the bisection is a creation of two identities, one identity that still exists with the person who has passed, and one that will continue living without them. During the beginning of the process of grieving a death, especially for the first time in one’s life, it is not clear how these two identities will coexist.

This quote, let alone the entire book, resonated with me so deeply because I also lost my mother as a child. I realized from then on life would be quite different, but I didn’t know how, that is, in what way. It’s such a simple statement, but when I read it, it takes me back to that day. I had, without a doubt, been bisected. It’s been just about eleven years since my mom passed, meaning that I’ve lived roughly half of my life without her. I wish I could say I’ve made some sense as to how these identities coexist, but it doesn’t seem like they’re connected by much more than fleeting memories.

Memories and grief have an undeniable relationship. Once we’ve experienced loss, such as a death, all we have are memories, both fond and painful. They shape our grief. The truly terrifying realization of grief is that we might forget these memories. And then what? Perhaps when that happens, our identity that exists with the dead begins to die itself. It nearly brings me to tears thinking about how little I can remember of me and my mother’s time together. What still pains me the most is that I hardly had the chance to get to know her. Pictures and vicarious memories are comforting mementos, but nothing could replace creating new memories together.

As I’m sure many others would agree, death puts many things into perspective. Some that come to mind are the fragility of life, the importance of reflection and the imperceptibility of time until it is too late. My mom’s birthday is, coincidentally, on Earth Day and now that our class is reading The Madhouse Effect by Michael E. Mann and Tom Toles, I can’t help but relate these perspectives to the impending grief that the impacts of climate change have caused and will continue to cause for humanity. Those that deny climate change may only feel this grief when their great grandchildren ask if the Great Barrier Reef was real. All those children will have to experience this planet’s beauty are pictures and vicarious memories. They will have been born into a bisected world.

1 Thought.

  1. This was incredibly well written and very moving. I loved the parallels made throughout this piece. Raw and honest- all very well said.

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