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from the November 2018 issue

Honor Thy Father and Mother: In Mourning

In the US, Thanksgiving is this month’s major holiday, but for others November opens with the second and third days of the celebration known collectively as the Day of the Dead. Those days—Halloween, All Saints’ Day (that much-missed, exquisitely timed holiday for Catholic trick-or-treaters), and All Souls’ Day—prompt our consideration of the departed, as well as contemplation of our own mortality. We’re marking the holiday with writing that explores different reactions to loss of a loved one.

The pieces here portray bereaved adult children in the aftermaths of their parents’ deaths. All four narratives focus on the determination to mourn in a way reflecting both the deceased and their survivors.

When his father dies, designer and writer Marcin Wicha channels his grief into a search for a fitting receptacle for the older man’s ashes. The garish, sentimental options ("All the models looked like a cross between a Grecian vase and a Chinese thermos flask”) would misrepresent not only the life of the dead man but his rigorous aesthetics as well, aesthetics ingrained in his son. Wicha’s creative solution reflects both their shared taste and the artistic heritage he spends his own artistic life honoring. 

Playwright Mishka Lavigne portrays the gap between a celebrity’s public profile and her only child’s private experience.  A famous author runs her car off a coastal road and is ejected into the ocean. At her funeral her numb daughter, Elsie, teeters between accepting the formulaic “condolences” of the title and rejecting the well-wishers’ idealized images of her absent, withholding mother.

From the funeral home we head to the cemetery, where José Luís Peixoto’s grieving narrator travels through familiar streets made stark with loss. Struggling to imagine a life without his father, incredulous at the sad turn of events, he walks the city of his past. His destination is the one place they cannot leave together.

While the other authors mourn within social conventions, Ariel Urquiza’s devastated young man is denied the comfort and distraction of ritual. Arriving at the end of what seems to have been a multiday party fueled by wealth and cocaine, he delivers a fresh supply of the latter to the confused host, who was expecting the young man’s mother. As he moves dazedly through the gathering, assailed by the inane chatter of a braying fool in ludicrous attire, his frayed nerves finally break, and the ensuing confrontation reveals the brutal truth of why he assumed his mother’s place.

The work here supports the adage that all people mourn in their own ways, and bears witness to the indelible mark the dead leave on our memory.

© 2018 by Susan Harris. All rights reserved.

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