Normally I make a point of staying out of the deep end, but sometimes I realize I'm never more than a step away from it...
August 12, 2012 10:43 AM   Subscribe

Artistic musings on the catastrophic loss of loved ones, and/or the possibility of ever really "getting over it"...

So, I've just finished watching The Deep End of the Ocean (in all it's mediocrity and tugging-at-heartstrings and such), and I've had too many cuba libré, so this question may not be as ... formulated as I'd like, but...
can you direct me to prose, fiction, film, art, (in that order, I guess) that deals (eloquently) with the idea of loss. I lost my father (violently, tragically, unnecessarily) at 8 years old (35 years ago) and I don't believe I am over it, don't believe I will ever be over it; I'm passing through my days just pretending to be over it...
Ruminations that might be soothing, or those that might further exacerbate the emotional ache, are both equally welcome. I understand that I am not, cannot be, alone in this... ultimately, I would like to... experience how others have expressed this sense of loss... perhaps there is a way to "break through/cross over" and be a fully functional human being again... but even if not, perhaps there might be something comforting/embracing (in either the positive or negative sense) that I could relate to and work forward with...
Any thoughts?
Thanks in advance.
posted by segatakai to Human Relations (26 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
At the risk of sounding cliche, this is exactly what therapy is for, and I think you'll find that it will be more productive a process than trying to make sense of what happened through other mediums. Your writing style suggests that you're a thoughtful person, but that you're also sort of wrapped up in what was obviously a very traumatic experience for you. One thing that really helped me through trauma was not allowing myself to romanticize the experience or myself in relationship to that experience. This was, I think, essential, to the healing process because it allowed me to confront reality rather than retreat into some ethereal dreamworld that I was creating to protect myself from what had happened. Don't allow yourself to stay in that state either.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 10:52 AM on August 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

I don't remember where I found this short poem, but it was probably from MetaFilter.
posted by hermitosis at 10:58 AM on August 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Joan Didion's memoir The Year of Magical Thinking is a very raw and honest account of the year after her partner died (she was also dealing with watching her child suffer through a life-threatening illness).
posted by idest at 11:00 AM on August 12, 2012 [6 favorites]

I agree with These Birds, but if you are looking for fiction recommendations, you can't do better than Norman Maclean's A River Runs through It, which is all about how he and his father never got over the loss of his brother, and what that feels like.
posted by Levi Stahl at 11:01 AM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Joan Didion lost both her husband and her daughter -- she writes eloquently about this experience in The Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights.

I also find the Fleet Foxes' Tiger Mountain Peasant Song to be a nice meditation on the death of a loved one. Here's a great cover, too.
posted by aintthattheway at 11:03 AM on August 12, 2012

The Vanishing is an excellent Dutch film about a man whose wife mysteriously disappears one sunny afternoon at a rest stop during their vacation through the French countryside. The rest of the movie follows his obsessive search to find out what happened to her and his inability to get over her disappearance.

The Lake by Ray Bradbury follows a young man who is haunted for years by the drowning of his childhood female friend.

Ordinary People is a movie about a family torn apart by the death of the eldest son.
posted by timsneezed at 11:09 AM on August 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

CS Lewis' "A Grief Observed" follows the fallout of losing his wife to cancer and his processing of that event.

I know what you're going through. My loving, doting father died quite suddenly right in front of me when I was nine. Even now, in my mid 30s after several stints of counseling and antidepressants I can't say I've ever really transcended that event. Most days I don't think about it, but there's a dent in my personality from it. . .a sort of permanent melancholy that has never quite lifted. If you want to chat, send me a message.
posted by minorcadence at 11:12 AM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Came in to make sure A Grief Observed had been mentioned.

Carry on.
posted by Egg Shen at 11:43 AM on August 12, 2012

Donald Hall is a former Poet Laureate of the United States. He was married to fellow poet Jane Kenyon who died in 1995 fifteen months after being diagnosed with leukemia. He has wrote a memoir about her, The Best Day the Worst Day, and a collection of poems entitled Without.
posted by XMLicious at 12:01 PM on August 12, 2012

Ponette is a French film about a four year old girl whose mom dies suddenly and about how the girl's mind weaves reality with make believe to try to deal with things. You really identify with the little girl and her situation.

Life as a House is about a dad who finds out he is dying and tries to reconnect with his angry teenaged son. Not your situation I know, but imho a very moving film about life and death.

I second Ordinary People as a very moving film about processing the death of someone you dearly love. Good luck to you, and do consider therapy too, it can be very helpful for exposing and perhaps letting go of feelings that have been obfuscated by time.
posted by onlyconnect at 12:03 PM on August 12, 2012

The Deer Lay Down Their Bones is a Robinson Jeffers poem about going on when your mate has died. It always gets me.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:04 PM on August 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

You might appreciate the children's/YA novel Eggs, by Jerry Spinelli. It's the story of a nine year old boy whose mother recently died, and by the end of the story he starts to come to terms with the reality that though he'll never really "get over" the loss, he can still have love in his world and people to help him in ways similar (though not replacing) what his mother could have done. It's an easy read, well written, and a good story which may give you a tiny bit of what you are seeking.
posted by gubenuj at 12:41 PM on August 12, 2012

Dirge Without Music by Edna St Vincent Millay.
posted by simongsmith at 12:41 PM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just to let you know, this is completely normal to the point that there is a name for it: bibliotherapy. People have always tried to process our experiences/emotions though art/writing that is both self-created and created by others sharing similar experiences/emotions.

There are several books I could reccomend (I am a librarian and this is part of my job I do every day), in person I could do a reference interview that would give you a tailored list. One major division is whether mentioning reglion in the material is helpful or not. I wonder if you would feel comfortable going to your library and asking the staff for help?

One I could suggest is The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, actually the memoir of a father (and a complicated man) that is dying and processing his own grief over losing his life, Henri Noumen'sOur greatest gift, Molly Fumia's A child at Dawn: the healing of a memory, and A Journey lived: a collection of personal stories from carers

You may even find works written for children to be healing as you reflect back on how you processed the trauma like Janice M. Hammond's When My Dad Died: A Child's View of Death, Ruth Ann Hitchcock's Tim's Dad : A Story About a Boy whose Father Dies., Judy Egett Laufer's Where Did Papa Go? , or Melissa Madenski's Some of the Pieces. There is alos a tonne of YA novels on this theme; sometimes with difficult topics it is easier to approach through material written for younger audiences. I hope this helps.
posted by saucysault at 12:48 PM on August 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

Bharati Mukherjee's short story "The Management of Grief" is about a woman who loses her sons and her husband in the Air India bombing. It's very well written and does not sugarcoat anything, but shows a way for the protagonist to move forward through her grief.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:51 PM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you feel that your grief, or rumination about your father's death, is continuing (at 35 years after it happened) to affect or inhibit your functioning in your daily life, I strongly urge you to consider therapy, as These Birds of a Feather mentioned above. If you have a lot of trouble sleeping, eating, working, taking care of yourself, socializing, or feeling as though your life has positive and fulfilling things about it for you--for the past 35 years--this is a cause for serious concern, and warrants much more comprehensive an approach than book/art suggestions, in my opinion.
posted by so_gracefully at 1:18 PM on August 12, 2012

I lost my dad at 20, though his illness started when I was 11. I was not prepared at all even though I had lost a few grandparents by then. My mom's death later wasn't as hard to deal with, even though I was closer to her, in many ways. I think there is something about losing a) a parent and b) losing them while you are young that is indelible and profound. Add violence to that and it's not surprising that it haunts you. I will nth the therapy, but what you are going through is understandable and, I would guess, not surprising in your situation.

Books did not help me all that much with my grief, but writing did. I think about my dad and mom quite a bit, and while I'm not depressed, I can't say I'm ever really "ok" with them being dead. I accept death, but I can't say I don't resent losing loved ones to it.
posted by emjaybee at 1:51 PM on August 12, 2012

Ordinary People is also a wonderful book.
posted by bookmammal at 2:34 PM on August 12, 2012

I loved "Shadowlands," which is a play about CS Lewis trying to get over the death of his wife, and how it changed his relationship to God. I'm not religious, let alone Christian, but I found it excellent anyway. CS Lewis also wrote a book called "A Grief Observed" that had some parts that I got a lot from.
posted by small_ruminant at 4:58 PM on August 12, 2012

I'm on iPhone so apologies for the lack of links, but here are some songs I listened to a lot after my dad died:
Jojo by Jacques Brel about the death of his best friend.
Daddy by Wyclef, seriously heartbreaking.
Together Again by Janet Jackson (this one's actually very positive, so probably not what you're looking for, but just putting it out there).
Easier by Kandi and Faith Evans (also has an "it gets better" vibe).

Also seconding Dirge without Music. God, I used to bawl my eyes out reading that over and over.
posted by ClarissaWAM at 5:24 PM on August 12, 2012

Borrowed Time by Paul Monette
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:57 PM on August 12, 2012

Gregory Orr "The Blessing" is a memoir about the tragic death of his brother. I also LOVE his poetry collections ’Concerning the Book That Is the Body of the Beloved’’ and ’’How Beautiful the Beloved." They are amazing and I cry my eyes out reading some of the poems. They are full of the poignant beauty and pain of love and loss.

But, I will also say that therapy was, for me, the only thing that really helped me complete the grieving process over 20 years after my father died. It helped me move from literally not being able to talk about anyone's father without crying to talking about my father with a peaceful heart.

I wish you all the best.
posted by rachums at 8:29 PM on August 12, 2012

In the Midst of Winter is a collection of essays, poems, etc., on grief which I have found very helpful at times.

I also like to walk through cemeteries.
posted by SLC Mom at 8:48 PM on August 12, 2012

Recently I lost a very dear friend of mine and have been reading this book:
"tiny beautiful things Advice on love and life from Dear Sugar" by Cheryl Strayed in the wake of my loss. It has proved to be insightful and comforting. The book deals with a lot of issues really, but loss is a major theme.
Take care.
posted by bookshelves at 8:51 PM on August 12, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone, for your suggestions. I've made myself a little list and it was my intention to search out each one of these suggestions… but then I went to re-read everyone's suggestions, starting from the top, and found in the first answer that These Birds' words had me rethinking the entire idea, wondering if I wasn't being (unintentionally) self-destructive.

I do think that I spend too much time "in thought" -- generally speaking, actually, not simply in regard to my father's death -- which in itself has become a kind of defense mechanism, leaving me ill-equipped to deal with reality.

I also think that alcohol brought my defenses down, such that it became much easier and more comfortable to wallow, and to seek out new places for wallowing.

About therapy... well, yes.
I am in a (financial and geographical) situation currently that makes therapy rather difficult to come by, but I have spent some time working with a therapist in the past, and fully expect that I will do so again in the (not too distant?) future.

So, I am divided about what to do with your kind suggestions…
and disinclined to turn away from generous alms…

I appreciate everyone's responses.
posted by segatakai at 9:32 PM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

In my opinion, you never get over it. You just get used to the pain.
posted by deborah at 9:11 PM on August 13, 2012

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