02 July 2013

worlds beyond these: introduction & part 1

Please note this is non-fiction. Don't worry; I have no intention of bleeding all over the keyboard.

I've been wanting to write this for ten years. Just be forewarned that it's not about what you're going to think it's about from the next couple of paragraphs.

What it's not about is: death, grieving, my dad. Really.

Note, though, that the five stages of grief as outlined by Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross & David Kessler are, in no particular order, Denial, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance, and Anger.

Note also these bare personal facts: my father passed away thirty years ago this past 12 June. He had two heart attacks in one day, it was sudden, and there was no prior medical history to lead us to expect this might happen.

He had just turned forty-eight on 27 May.

I was thirteen years old, and my brothers were ten and four.

But that is not what this series of articles is about.

At the funeral home, at the funeral itself, in the months that followed, we got to hear a lot about those five stages of grief, got to have our every mood and emotional reaction pegged as one of the five.

No-one mentioned one very remarkable thing, though: that those five stages are not just about what you and the other loved ones of the deceased go through. Other people who have never met the person who passed away react the same way. And that's when things can get very, very weird.

This series isn't about me. It's about everyone else.

Because it's about everyone else, I've changed names for the usual reasons. The point isn't to embarrass anyone, although in the case I'm covering in Part 2, I'd like to. The point is to consider other viewpoints.

Some of these examples are understandable. The trick for the survivor is just to ensure they're ready for it when it happens.

Some of these examples are as inexcusable as they are unbelievable. Those are the ones I'm putting first.

Part 1: Denial

It is two years after the funeral. I'm in the second year of high school, as is a classmate I've known since before. One day we're in the corridor at lunchtime, talking to a mutual friend whose parents are divorced. The mutual friend mentions she's going to see her dad on the weekend. He lives in another city now, so she only sees him a few times a year.

Natasha, my classmate, turns to me and says, "How often do you see your dad?"

"Pardon?" I say. The question doesn't make any sense.

"Doesn't he have visitation rights?" she presses.

"Visitation rights?"

She rolls her eyes. "Well, I don't think that's right. He's still your dad, and you should be able to see him when you want to."

I finally catch up. "Natasha," I say, "He's dead."

"Whatever," she says, and flounces off with the mutual friend.

There's more to it than that. Not only was Natasha at the recreation centre where my dad had his initial heart attack, not only did she see him borne on a stretcher into an ambulance, but she represented my class at the funeral. She was front-and-centre for the entire event, but here we are two years later, and she's asking about visitation rights. When I confront her later and remind her about the funeral, she just keeps repeating "I don't remember that", as if it makes it true.

Two years later again we're both in senior year and she tells me that once I turn eighteen, any visitation restrictions are null and void. I remind her again of the truth, again she claims not to have lived through her part, and we're back in our starting positions.

Part 2 and a reflection on Parts 1 & 2 will be posted next week.


  1. I'm confused as to whether this is fiction, non-fiction, or creative non-fiction. I could see it in either category, having had some strange experiences regarding family deaths, relatives, and memories in general. You certainly have my attention.

    1. Oh, it's non-fiction. Completely non-fiction. I wish I could claim a fictional component, but there isn't one except for the name-changes. :-)

    2. I read it as non-fiction, especially with that introduction. However I also remember you saying something about this on Twitter, and this doesn't seem like the sort of story you traditionally make up. That could be sample bias for me, though.

      If you wanted, you could add a Non-Fiction tag at the bottom for anyone else who wonders. But regardless, thank you for taking us inside of this.

    3. I think I'm going to mention it's non-fiction at the top of each post, before the links to the previous post(s). Appreciate the feedback!

  2. Holy crap, talk about blocking the memory! Once again, reality is weirder than fiction.

  3. Holy crap, talk about blocking the memory! Once again, reality is weirder than fiction.

  4. That kind of reality break is really scary. It makes me think about how different our worlds can be.

    This promises to be a really interesting, and probably emotional and profound series.

    I'm glad you're posting. I wonder how hard it's been for you to do so and why after ten years?

    1. Originally I'd wanted to interview grief counsellors and try to get some expert commentary in. That way the text wouldn't just be me with my anecdotes and opinions. I'd also hoped to try to get published in one of the Canadian newspapers -- some of them have back-page columns for non-journalists to submit to, and this subject matter would have fit. Like I said in the introduction, this isn't really about me -- it's just I got to encounter it.

      Having a day job and lacking press credentials has proven to make this approach impossible. A friend of mine who works in social services got me in touch with some grief counsellors she knows, but even after I outlined my story proposal they assumed I wanted/needed counselling, rather than talking about these kinds of behaviours more generally.

      So I've had to change approaches and do things this way. I hope it works out.

    2. I also think this is interesting on a meta level. It's not about you, it's about the reactions people had at the time. And now it can also be about the reactions people have on your blog. What a mind job!

  5. What an interesting form of memoir you're embarking on! And how wonderful that you're being brave and facing down these memories in your writing! This is going to sound weird, but I'm proud of you for this- I honestly don't know if i'd have the courage, even thirty years later.
    As for the memory loss, I have actually heard stranger (I'm a counselor, see a lot of grief) Oh- and on that note, I'd be happy to give you a more general discussion if you'd like. I'm not a grief counselor, but in my friend (D&A) grief is a BIG issue so i've had a decent amount of experiences.
    At any rate, in regards to the memory loss, all the cases I've seen were direct relatives, not your friend's father. But still- memory can do VERY strange things in response to psychological distress.

    1. Thank you, Bev! I really appreciate that you jumped in with your professional knowledge.


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