Time Passes

I was really annoyed by the “Time Passes” section of To the Lighthouse the first time I read it. It’s beautifully written, of course: evocative and poignant and intentional. But it draws so much attention to itself, to its writing: it’s fiction as high art, and not just art but art on self-conscious display. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, on its own terms, but that’s not (usually) my favorite kind of fiction. Woolf’s “calculated parentheticals” especially rubbed me the wrong way.

I admitted at the time that I’m not a very good reader of Woolf’s fiction, and it showed. I wouldn’t say I’m much better at reading her now (although last summer I read The Waves and was completely entranced, so something has changed) but I have been thinking a lot lately about the way time is passing, about the way time has passed, since Owen’s death, and just as the poets were there for me when I was first searching for ways to express my shock and grief, it turns out Woolf is here for me now as I struggle with the strangeness of a world that has its own process of continuity and change, indifferent to my personal loss. Like Mr. Ramsay’s, my arms remain stretched out but empty; here too spring is coming, “bare and bright,” “entirely careless of what was done or thought by the beholders.” For all its beauty, Woolf’s account of time passing is not a comforting vision: it isn’t a version of the mourners’ mantra “it takes time.” Perhaps the beauty of the writing is its own consolation. Woolf’s illuminating attention, too—not just to the effects of time passing but to her beholders, like Lily Briscoe, and to herself as a beholder—resists that cold carelessness.

Time passes.

Woolf described the structure of To the Lighthouse as “two blocks joined by a corridor,” with “Time Passes” connecting the main parts, “The Window” and “The Lighthouse.” One way I suppose I could think about where I am right now is precisely in a corridor between two blocks, one of them my previous life, which included Owen, and the other my future life, which will go on without him. In a literal sense, of course, I am already in that new life, but it doesn’t feel that way yet: I feel disoriented, adrift, unsettled. What’s missing, I’ve been thinking, at least in part, is meaning, which is not to say that there is some intrinsic meaning in Owen’s death for me to find out (thankfully, nobody has been insensitive enough to tell me “everything happens for a reason”), but that eventually I need to figure out how to incorporate his death into my understanding of my life. Somehow, that is, the end of Owen’s life has to become part of the story of my own life: rather than considering it a break, a catastrophic rupture, in that story (the way it feels to me now), I need to learn to see it as belonging to a new, different continuity. (Mrs. Ramsay, though dead, is still very present in “The Lighthouse.”) I just don’t know how to tell that unified story yet, or how to live that life, a life connected to but also separated from my past, with this sad, confusing period as the passage from one to the other.

I’ve realized that some of the books I picked up to reread, seemingly at random, in the first few days after his death were actually stories about lives that have been broken in this way: The Accidental Tourist, for example, which is a novel all about grief, or Disturbances in the Field. I put them down again without finishing them, I think now because ultimately these novels are about recovery and renewal, and I wasn’t (I’m not) ready for that. The “it gets better” narrative is insistent and not as encouraging as I know people mean it to be. It has been a relief, in that respect, to spend some time with Megan Devine’s (badly titled) It’s OK That You’re Not OK. Devine’s mission is to push back against efforts, however well meaning, to “fix” someone’s grief; like Ignatieff in On Consolation, she emphasizes the importance of acknowledgment, and of just letting sad people be sad. Everyone’s grief is different and so books about grief are bound to strike people differently as well. I don’t like everything about Devine’s, but some of it makes a lot of sense to me, and I found this video on her website both soothing and wise:

In her book, Devine quotes a friend who wrote to her after her husband died and explained “how my therapist used to ask our group to ‘be like the elephants’ and gather around the wounded person.” “Gather your elephants, love,” her friend tells her; “We are here.” I am so grateful to my elephants; thank you for being here.


This so-called ‘work of grief’ is turning out to be a shatteringly exhausting apprehension of the needed work of living. It demands to be fully lived, while the labour of living it is physically exhausting—like virulent jetlag, but surging up in waves.

The notes and emails of condolence have stopped arriving and I’ve acknowledged each of them. Yet after all this ritual and effort, he still hasn’t come home. What more does he want?

Denise Riley, Time Lived, Without its Flow

rocky shores

“How are you doing?” people ask a lot these days in emails and messages, kindly reaching out, letting me know they are still here, still available, still caring. I am genuinely grateful, because (as many of them who have known grief themselves have said) grieving is a lonely business even when it isn’t midwinter during a pandemic. And yet somehow as time goes on I find I am less and less able to reply with grace, because (unfairly, unreasonably) what I hear, even though of course it isn’t what they’ve said, is “How you are doing now, what has changed, are you doing any better yet?” Actually, some people probably are tacitly asking that, or at least wondering it, hoping—for my sake—that I am doing better. “How would you be doing?” I sometimes want to reply. Riley talks about “kindly onlookers” saying “I can’t imagine what you are feeling.” “I’d like them to try to imagine,” she says; “it’s not so difficult.”

OUP MiddlemarchIt is terrible, the damage grief does to one’s own generosity. I don’t like it, though for now I can’t seem to help it. Anger is often mentioned as one of the ‘stages’ of bereavement; I haven’t seen any discussion of selfishness, but that’s what it feels like, or self-absorption. All these years reading Middlemarch and now I can’t displace myself and my sorrows from the center of my narrative: I’m disappointed in myself. How I have always admired Dorothea’s resolution after her night of mourning her lost love: “She said to her own irremediable grief, that it should make her more helpful, instead of driving her back from effort.” Of course, thinking the man you loved is not the man you thought him to be—even believing that your chance at joyful passion is over—is hardly the same as knowing your child walked away from you into the night and will never come back.

How am I doing? I am still sad, still (how, after two months?) shocked, still struggling to make sense of a life that has been dealt such a blow, still trying not to think about it but also still unable not to think about it, still counting the days since it happened, still remembering the days before it happened and marveling at their innocence. (Who know a bullet journal could take on such pathos when it turns out that its cheerful notations—decorate tree! Maddie here! Christmas dinner!—were counting down to this?) I am still unable to bear going in his room or looking at baby pictures (why are the happiest memories the saddest ones?), still finding it surreal that his ashes are on our bookshelf, still frequently startled into painful sobs by thoughts or reminders of his life and his death.

ignatieffThe other question I’m hearing more and more is some variation on “have you considered talking to someone?”—meaning, of course, someone else, someone professional, someone who knows what to say. (Maybe that’s why the “how are you doing” question feels a bit loaded, as the combined subtext starts to seem like “this has gone on long enough.”) This has made me think again about Ignatieff’s comments in On Consolation about our current reliance on “therapeutic professionals” who “treat our suffering as an illness from which we need to recover.” “When suffering becomes understood as an illness with a cure,” he says, “something is lost.” I don’t think anyone who has suggested this to me means to imply that it is wrong for me to still be grieving; again, I know that they want to help, they want—for my sake—for me to be feeling better, doing better, living better. I don’t know if a therapist would approach my grief as something to be fixed or cured. I hope not: I don’t want to “recover” from it, and I don’t think I could. (“Some part of you may still remain in the underworld,” Riley says, and that seems right, meaning both true and appropriate.) I will find out, though: I have found someone to talk to (it’s not an easy process, as many of you probably know), though they can’t fit me in for a while. It is hard to think even that far ahead, but it seems likely I will still need whatever it is that they have to offer.

I feel like I need to add: I mean it that I am truly grateful to everyone kind enough to check in with me. Please don’t read this as my wishing you wouldn’t.

Owen Maitzen


Weeping Woman 1937 by Pablo Picasso 1881-1973The two things I’ve heard or read most often about grief are “it takes time” and “wait until you’re ready.” These are helpful comments, as far as anything is helpful; they lessen my anxiety and confusion by reminding me that there is no timeline, there are no rules, there are no ‘oughts’ that follow from this shocking and disruptive ‘is.’ They are also, less reassuringly, very vague: nobody knows how much time or can say exactly what “it” is, or when, if ever, I’ll be “ready” for the things I currently can’t face doing—sorting through his belongings, for example, so poignantly scant and so heartbreakingly reminiscent of him. But it has been good to remind myself that it is OK for now just to get from one day to the next as best I can.

SnowyTreesThe world won’t wait for me, though. The days keep relentlessly coming and going, their accumulation inexorably putting distance between this sad present and the innocent times before—especially that last happy day, the day when he knew but we didn’t that it was the last one, the day he told us, as it came cheerfully to a close, that he would remember for the rest of his life (how different that remarks sounds today). And now winter is starting, slowly and haltingly but perceptibly, to change to spring. Usually I am impatient, desperate even, for this to happen: the contrast between the shorter, milder winters I experienced growing up in Vancouver and the longer, harsher winters we suffer through here has always made me depressed. I never understood why April would be considered cruel until I lived here; if winter comes, I often crankily exclaimed, spring can indeed be ‘far behind.’ Now, however, the lighter mornings, the lengthening days, the brighter sunshine all exert the kind of pressure on me that those consolatory phrases attempt to protect me from.

Mourning in winter has been very hard, and very isolating, because of the added complication of COVID concerns, but it has also made emotional sense to me that the weather has stayed as bleak as my feelings. “He left us in the dead of winter,” as Auden’s poem goes; “the day of his death was a dark cold day.” Beauty and brightness seem so incongruous. I went to the park one rare mild morning, hoping to find some consolation in the loveliness of sea and sky, but I was immediately flooded with memories and overwhelmed with grief knowing that Owen would never again turn his face to the sun.

PPP February 11 2022

It takes time, I know. I’ll try again, when I feel ready. But spring will come whether I’m ready or not, and this year I can’t imagine that the renewal of warmth and life around us will seem anything but painful, a constant reminder of our loss. It takes time—but “the dead slip away,” as Riley says, “as we realize that we have unwillingly left them behind in their timelessness.” I’m not ready for that.

smith springAs it happens, my recent reading has also been seasonal, though I don’t think there’s any connection to these ruminations. At any rate, if there is a link, it’s not conscious or deliberate. Prompted by my attempts to conceptualize my book project, I looked up information about Ali Smith’s recent Orwell Prize win. What I read about it and her it sent me back to reread Autumn, which I had liked but not loved before; with questions about form and content and ‘novels with a purpose’ in mind, I found it engaging and thought-provoking, so I read on through Winter and Spring, and I will get to Summer soon. I’m not confident that the connections I was making between her series and the other earlier books I am planning to write about are good ones, or that it makes sense to include a contemporary example, but the flicker of intellectual excitement this idea gives me feels good enough to make it worth following up on anyway.

Image: Pablo Picasso, Weeping Woman (1937, Tate Gallery)


Mona Arshi’s essay talked about Denise Riley’s Time Lived, Without Its Flow in a way that made me want to read it for myself. Riley wrote the essay after the sudden death of her grown son from an undiagnosed heart condition. After he died, she found herself experiencing time differently; the essay is a meditation on “that extraordinary feeling of a-temporality” and its implications for grief and consolation.

I hadn’t been thinking about my own experience in temporal terms, though I have often had the sometimes overwhelming sensation that I am standing still while the rest of the world is moving, which I suppose is a version of what she means about “living in suddenly arrested time.” When I try to describe my emotional state, I am drawn to metaphors of weight and especially of carrying: it’s a lot to carry, I can’t put it down, I can’t bear it, it’s very heavy. Arshi’s word “sticky” resonated with me because I also feel stuck in one place, unable to let go or move forward; there is a repetition, a sameness, even a tedium to my grief. Reading Riley’s essay, I thought that this feeling too could be a form of “temporal suspension,” a state in which, as she notes, “your reflections will crop up all over again but as if, on occasion, they’re newly thought.” On the other hand, perhaps her grief and mine are not the same: grief is such a strange blend of the intensely individual and the commonplace, even universal.

Time Lived, Without Its Flow begins with a series of notes recorded at intervals (from two weeks to three years) after her son’s death. They are followed by an analytical postscript that includes comments on some poetic treatments of grief and “temporal distortion”—”this is literary criticism as love,” Max Porter observes in his Afterword. After his own first reading, Porter says, he sat “marvelling that so few pages could have such an impact, could contain so much.” My own reading experience was not so thrilling. I found the essay more abstract than I expected, more conceptual, less immediate; I regretted the same lack of sentimentality Porter admires. Porter calls it “non-fiction burnished to the point of poetic intensity.” It is, but (like Riley’s own poetry) it’s very cerebral—which is not to say it is not often moving and powerful. There are lines in it that will echo in my mind for a long time, especially this one:

Perhaps what’s specific is this: that with the death of your child, your own experience of time may be especially prone to disturbance because the lost life had, so to speak, previously unfurled itself inside your own life.

Commenting on the inevitable return to “a communicable social life and its familiar chronology,” Riley notes that

the cost of recovering your conventional apprehension of flowing time is intolerably high. The dead slip away, as we realize that we have unwillingly left them behind in their timelessness.

How well that explains something I’ve been trying to understand: how being “stuck” in grief can feel preferable to the alternative, which is “a second, now final, loss.” Riley’s concluding vision, though, is a consoling one: a “temporality of love,” in which “the time of the dead is…freshly contained within your own.”

Riley’s collection “Say Something Back” is included in the same NYRB volume as Time Lived, Without Its Flow. Here’s an excerpt I particularly liked from one of its poems, “A Part Song”:


They’d sworn to stay for ever but they went
Or else I went—then concentrated hard
On the puzzle of what it ever truly meant
For someone to be here then, just like that,
To not. Training in mild loss was useless
Given the final thing. And me lamentably
Slow to “take it in”—far better toss it out,
How should I take in such a bad idea. No,
I’ll stick it out instead for presence. If my
Exquisite hope can wrench you right back
Here, resigned boy, do let it as I’m waiting.

My Absent Child

A kind reader shared these apt lines from Shakespeare’s King John with me in a comment on an earlier post:

Grief fills the room up of my absent child,
Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me,
Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words,
Remembers me of all his gracious parts,
Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form;
Then, have I reason to be fond of grief?

How well those lines capture the way that familiar things are now permeated with Owen’s missing presence. If anything, the house seems more full of him than it did in the days right afterwards, perhaps because as the initial shock has worn off, thoughts of his life crowd around and complicate thoughts of his death.

The sense of his presence in our house is particularly strong because, after living either in residence at Dalhousie or on his own since 2015, he had settled back here for a while, in between apartmentsthat was the plan, anyway. In preparation for his homecoming, I did a lot of reorganizing; I tried especially hard to make the space that would be his as welcoming as possible. I know he was grateful for it, and comfortable, as far as that went. Now, everywhere I look, I see reminders of this loving effort, and another line from In Memoriam haunts me: “Is this the end of all my care?” How can that be? How can this be?

Inexorably, days became weeks and weeks have now become the first month. “Time does not bring relief,” says Edna St. Vincent Millay in a sonnet another friend shared; “you have all lied / Who told me time would ease me of my pain.” The grief is still often overpowering; though I am getting slightly better at repressing the outward expression of it (I have to—a burst blood vessel in my eye is a warning about the physical toll of mourning) the pain of his death is just as intense as it ever was, and it is still worst in those moments of awakening, whether from sleep or from any distraction that has kept the thought of it at bay for a while.

“There are a hundred places,” Millay’s poem goes on, “where I fear / To go,—so with his memory they brim.” The paradox is that these places and memories are as precious as they are painful. I yearn for them even as I can’t—for now—bear to occupy them. I can’t imagine being “fond of grief,” but I think Shakespeare means (as Tennyson does when he says “Let Love clasp Grief”) that because we can no longer separate our love and our grief, our only option is to live lovingly with sadness. I don’t know how to do that yet: there’s such a shadow over everything, including over the happy memories that some (reasonably, kindly) suggest should comfort me.

I liked this recent essay on grief by Mona Arshi a lot. I think she is wise about how we think we are supposed to mourn; I appreciate her resistance to narratives of linearity and closure, which are at odds with what she rightly identifies as the stickiness of grief—which makes it repetitive, static, wearing. She’s right that grief is lonely, and that in the face of it, our words often fail us. She’s also right that “no matter how anarchic and wretched the grief may be, a poet will have gotten there first.”

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.


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.


Firsts, After

Moving on, as a concept, is for stupid people, because any sensible person knows grief is a long-term project. I refuse to rush. The pain that is thrust upon us let no man slow or speed or fix. (Max Porter, Grief Is the Thing With Feathers)

There have been a lot of firsts for us since Owen died, new things we have had to say or do because of his death. As the days begin to stretch, slowly but inexorably, into weeks, now we have to face doing things we always used to do, but for the first time after his death. There aren’t any rules to govern when to do most of these: how soon is too soon, how long is too long to put them off. We don’t have any rituals to give us a timeline: our beliefs about life and death, which are in other respects enough for us, give us no guidance here.

Necessity has made some decisions for us: prescriptions have to be refilled, we need to eat, our booster shots were already scheduled. Steve and Maddie are starting classes again, which also, for better and for worse, generates immediate demands to be met. It’s the inessentials that puzzle me right now, the small but constant things that made up the fabric of my life before and that I know will once again be integral to it—but when? but how?

I have already written my first blog post, after—and my second, and now my third—but they are about Owen, about my loss and grief. (It turns out this is one of the only things I want to do. Writing feels safer than speaking; it is also how I have always sorted out my thoughts and feelings. I also feel uneasy about it, though: is it inappropriate to write here? How often, when writing about other people’s writing about grief, have I wondered why they took such private feelings public?) Eventually, I will write my first blog post after his death that is about something I’ve read—eventually, I will read my first book, after. (What will it be?) At some point I will rejoin the stream of conversation that is Twitter, to talk about the usual things, not about Owen—about the things everyone else is still talking about. (What a ruthless indicator Twitter is of how quickly everything moves on; while I find it painful right now, from the sad sidelines, there is perhaps some prospective reassurance in its continuity.) These are such trivial things to do, which is one reason I can’t bring myself to do them now, but the first time I do them, after, whenever that is, they will feel significant. How will I know when it is the right time—what will make the difference?

Maybe nothing will: maybe there is only the time, not the right time. In the absence of rules or protocols or schedules for mourning (which, I am realizing, is entangled with but not identical to grief), there’s really only trial and error. A small example. We have now watched our first episode of Jeopardy since Owen died, a nightly pandemic ritual he often joined us for after he moved back home in November; even though he didn’t really enjoy the show himself, he was willing to hang out with us, which was nice. It felt strange and wrong and haunted to do it, but either we were never going to watch Jeopardy again, or at some point we were going to have to get through the oddity of doing something so completely familiar in this still unfamiliar world, for the first time.

Normalcy is an emotional precipice for me right now: it’s still too common and too painful to look up from the stove or the keyboard or the TV and feel the new reality flash upon me all over again, with all the intensity of breaking news. In this terrible aftermath of our loss, I think in those moments, how can we bother with ordinary life? Yet the writer who means the most to me is eloquent about the beauty of “commonplace things” and I believe she is right. I’ve also been thinking about what I wrote last year about Olivia Manning’s Balkan Trilogy, about its affirmation “that if something was worth doing before a crisis, it remains worth doing.” I believe this too, though it is hard to feel its truth right now. At some point, then, maybe even today, I will try to do some work. Oddly, the book I was reviewing—am reviewing—for the TLS is Michael Ignatieff’s On Consolation. (How hypothetical his arguments seemed to me only two weeks ago; now I can test for myself his claims about the healing power of Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder.) At some point I will pick up my research and carry on with the writing that this sabbatical was meant for: I will download a PDF and take some notes—such a mundane task, unless it’s for the first time, after.


Owen and Mom“Where can we live but days?”

At the end of the first day, the day it happened, the day we found out, we said to each other, “At least we don’t have to get through the first day again.” The second day wasn’t easier, but at least it wasn’t the first. The third day, we went to campus to see the flags lowered in Owen’s memory: it was sad but not terrible, like the sixth day, when he was cremated. Sleeping is good, because a day is over and then you forget it for a while, but waking up to every new day is awful, because you remember. “What are days for,” Larkin asks; “They come, they wake us / Time and time over.”

It turns out that there was a certain simplicity to the first few days. As many of you probably know, there’s a lot that has to be done after a death. There are questions to answer and forms to complete; there are announcements to prepare and arrangements to make. There’s also the shock, when the death is sudden, as Owen’s was, which is overwhelming but also insulating. For a while, grief is the only thing—but then the noise of life begins again. Now, as we pick up some of the pieces of what was once just routine, we all find ourselves confused by sudden vertiginous shifts between familiarity and estrangement. So much is exactly the same, but everything is different. I cooked dinner last night, a favorite dish, one I’ve prepared dozens of times; I broke down in the kitchen because it made no sense to me that it was all exactly the same when nothing will ever be the same. The food tasted delicious. How is that possible?

IMG_1127 (1)A lot of people who know about grief have told us it gets better, though it takes time, but also that the process isn’t simple or linear: it isn’t as straightforward as just getting through more days, each of them easier than the last. Right now the passing days feel too fleeting anyway. “I don’t want it to be four days already,” Maddie said last week, and now it has been too many more days but also far from enough days to understand what this loss means for us. We still feel grateful that we know what it meant for Owen, and there is still comfort in his last words of love. But we are the ones who have to go on now, a family of three where once we were four. He couldn’t tell us how to do that any more than we could tell him not to leave us.

In the days since his death we have talked a lot, to each other and to family and friends. I can’t talk much without crying; I think it’s because every spoken word confirms what otherwise seems surreal. Writing is strange and hard in a different way. “I sometimes hold it half a sin,” Tennyson notes in In Memoriam, “To put in words the grief I feel.” But he did, and his words helped him then and now help us. My mother shared this line from Macbeth with me: “Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak whispers the o’er fraught heart and bids it break.” My life is in words as well as days, even when they are not “to be happy in.” All I can do is try to get used to them again.

Owen Maitzen

In words, like weeds, I’ll wrap me o’er,
   Like coarsest clothes against the cold:
   But that large grief which these enfold
Is given in outline and no more.
(In Memoriam)

Owen Maitzen (1997-2021)

My son Owen died yesterday, December 30 2021. He took his own life calmly and courageously, after a family Christmas celebration that was full of laughter, games, and music. We parted that night with warm hugs and warm words: the last thing he said to me was “I’m just so full of love.” Although we are heartbroken to lose him and will miss and mourn him forever, there is comfort in knowing that for him, this is the ending he wanted to his long and often very painful struggle with depression, and that he was both very sure and very happy at the end.


There is so much I could say about Owen, who was the most brilliant, creative, and talented person I have ever known. He was loving and generous, hilarious and principled, difficult and inspiring. His mind was lightning fast; he loved wordplay and linguistic absurdity and could recite entire episodes of ‘Epic Rap Battles of History’ and ‘Bad Lip Reading’ from memory. He loved numbers and mathematics, and one of his last completed projects was an astonishing video about Hackenbush, combinatorial game theory, and surreal numbers which he conceived, scripted, programmed, and recorded entirely by himself. He was a prolific and original composer; he left a legacy of hundreds of acoustic and electronic compositions. He loved nothing in his life more than spending time with his sister Maddie: their hilarity and ingenuity when they collaborated on improvs, music, and games always filled their parents’ hearts with wonder and happiness.

Inevitably, fragments of poems have been coming to me ever since he left us. Stop all the clocks. Remember me when I am gone away. Smart lad, to slip betimes away. Farewell thou child of my right hand and joy. They mean everything and nothing when it’s your own loss. Right now, the line I keep returning to is “Let Love clasp Grief lest both be drown’d.” My love and my grief feel boundless right now; they are the same. I want to remember him with happiness. I really do think that’s what he wanted. It is such grace that he left us feeling love and loved.

Owen’s formal obituary is here.


Thanksgiving 2021