Reading Notebook #22: Love, Grief, & Letting Go

From “A Cruel Country” [excerpts from Roland Barthes’ journals after his mother’s death] in The New Yorker (September 13, 2010):

[Intro] Those who love Barthes are reminded, by his writing, of what true intimacy entails: supreme attunement alternating with bewildered estrangement. Instability—the instability of meaning, in particular—is his constant theme.  … In these excerpts, grief gives Barthes the permission he could never give himself: to let go.

Everyone guesses—I feel this—the degree of a bereavement’s intensity. But it’s impossible (meaningless, contradictory signs) to measure how much someone is afflicted.

A stupefying, though not distressing notion—that she has not been “everything” for me. If she had, I wouldn’t have written my work. Since I’ve been taking care of her, the last six months in fact, she was “everything” for me, and I’ve completely forgotten that I’d written. I was no longer anything but desperately hers. Before, she had made herself transparent so that I could write.

Monday, 3 p.m. — Back alone for the first time in the apartment. How am I going to manage to live here all alone? And at the same time, it’s clear there’s no other place.

… That’s how I can grasp my mourning. Not directly in solitude, empirically, etc.; I seem to have a kind of ease, of control that makes people think I’m suffering less than they would have imagined. But it comes over me when our love for each other is torn apart once again. The most painful point at the most abstract moment …

Solitude = having no one at home to whom you can say, I’ll be back at a specific time, or whom you can call to say (or to whom you can just say), Voila, I’m home now.

To whom could I put this question (with any hope of an answer)? Does being able to live without someone you loved mean you loved her less than you thought … ?

Everyone is “extremely nice”—and yet I feel entirely alone. (“Abandonitis.”)

Each of us has his own rhythm of suffering.

Letter [from Proust] to George de Lauris, whose mother has just died (1907): “Now there is one thing I can tell you: you will enjoy certain pleasures you would not fathom now. When you still had your mother you often thought of the days when you would have her no longer. Now you will often think of days past when you had her. … it is a kind of pleasure to know that you will never love less, that you will never be consoled, that you will constantly remember more and more.”

Posted in Family, Life Philosophy, Love, Reading.

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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Wow. As a woman with aging parents, this was a tough one to read, but beautiful at the same time. I can’t imagine the loss of my mother. I also can’t imagine the pain my own children will feel when I pass. Loving someone unconditionally is both beautiful and painful. Thanks for sharing these glimpses into the mourning heart.

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