That Thought’s Return

Content Warning: Suicide

—Through what power,
Even for the least division of an hour,
Have I been so beguiled as to be blind
To my most grievous loss!—That thought’s return
Was the worst pang that sorrow ever bore,
Save one, one only, when I stood forlorn,
Knowing my heart’s best treasure was no more … 

The trick, it turns out, is not to think about it—about how it was for him, and especially about how it ended for him. I can manage it if I keep my mind busy: “O the mind,” as Hopkins says, “mind has mountains.” The trick is to smother those thoughts, or to overwhelm them: to fill in the space that they would otherwise occupy, and thus keep back from the “cliffs of fall,” from hurtling back into that place of horror and shock and the desperate wish to undo it all—the impossible, unreasonable, but inescapable feeling that I should have been able to comfort him, to hold him, to save him. Every grief has its own particular pangs, I know. That this death was deliberate and desired sometimes makes the pangs sharper to me, even as I hold firm to my belief in his right to make that choice and to my gratitude that when he left us, it was, as he told us, with a heart full of love.

mugI am trying. I have read my first new book, now: Lauren Groff’s Matrix. It was a good choice—unusual, unworldly, written in prose direct enough that my wavering concentration wasn’t too much of a problem. I might write a proper post about it in a while. I have been doing some work on my sabbatical project—mostly just reviewing the materials I had gathered and the notes and drafts I had begun last summer, to remind myself how interested and even excited I was about my book idea. I still am, I think: there are flickers, and they feel hopeful, if faint. In between these efforts I watch a lot of TV, a lot of it familiar, some of it new but low-key enough, trivial enough, that I don’t have to risk investing in it emotionally. All of this works to muffle the other thoughts, until it doesn’t. The house is so full of reminders; all I have to do is look up and there are the pictures of his joyful little baby face; there’s the piano he played unlike anyone else, the music just flowing out of his fingers; there’s his old desk; there’s his phone, which I saw so often in his hand. My office on campus is no safer, I realized today, stopping in briefly to grab some books (trying to stoke the embers of my research): more memories, more pictures, the mug he had made for me a few years ago for Christmas.

Sometimes I don’t want to try to be beguiled out of my grief, either, and that seems right, so soon after—it’s right to remember and to mourn, to let the thought return.

ear


As a side note, or perhaps a kind of apologia, someone on Twitter recently shared this image of a poem by Sean Thomas Dougherty. I found it very powerful and I hope he won’t mind my sharing it again here. I worry, especially because I’m writing about something as fraught and difficult as suicide, that my words might themselves be wounding, but others’ words of both grief and comfort continue to help me and so for now I will continue to write what I feel.

why-bother

11 thoughts on “That Thought’s Return

  1. Jeanne January 24, 2022 / 1:15 pm

    A powerful poem.
    I thought about you when I reread a passage from Hamnet: ““she, like all mothers, constantly casts out her thoughts, like fishing lines, towards her children, reminding herself of where they are, what they are doing, how they fare. From habit, while she sits there near the fireplace, some part of her mind is tabulating them and their whereabouts: Judith, upstairs. Susanna, next door. And Hamnet? Her unconscious mind casts, again and again, puzzled by the lack of bite, by the answer she keeps giving it: he is dead, he is gone. And Hamnet? The mind will ask again.”

    • Rohan Maitzen January 25, 2022 / 1:48 pm

      Yes: that’s it exactly.

  2. Elaine O. January 24, 2022 / 5:28 pm

    Bless your heart. I ache for your pain, Rohan. I am so very sorry. Thank you for sharing this poem.

    • Rohan Maitzen January 26, 2022 / 12:18 pm

      Thank you for your kind words, Elaine.

  3. Carolyn Ruane January 25, 2022 / 5:21 am

    BY CHRISTINA ROSSETTI

    Remember me when I am gone away,
    Gone far away into the silent land;
    When you can no more hold me by the hand,
    Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
    Remember me when no more day by day
    You tell me of our future that you plann’d:
    Only remember me; you understand
    It will be late to counsel then or pray.
    Yet if you should forget me for a while
    And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
    For if the darkness and corruption leave
    A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
    Better by far you should forget and smile
    Than that you should remember and be sad.

    I read this poem at my friend’s funeral , she was 43 had a caring family and 3 children under 18.

    • Rohan Maitzen January 25, 2022 / 1:47 pm

      A lovely poem – I know it well.

  4. kerryclare January 25, 2022 / 2:09 pm

    Thank you for letting us share where you’re at. xoxo

  5. Melissa January 25, 2022 / 6:29 pm

    Thank you for these posts. As someone also grieving (and yes every grief is particular, but there is also a certain universal nature in it all) I find you offering me words and understandings that are indeed in the “shape of the wound” Thank you for offering that even as you grieve yourself. It means so very much to me.

  6. susan messer January 25, 2022 / 9:33 pm

    Me too. Still reading. Still feeling so moved by what you are saying/thinking/feeling.

  7. Juhi January 27, 2022 / 11:52 am

    Just wanted to send you all lots of hugs and love. You are in my heart.

  8. Stacey January 29, 2022 / 3:37 pm

    O the mind, indeed. Thinking of you from across the seas.

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