Substitution Will Not Work

Recently, I have had two distinctive events in my life: the death of my dad and the birth of my second grand baby. These events are distinctive in the sense of momentous and thus distinguished from my otherwise normal life. They are also distinctive in the sense of distinct: they have nothing to do with one another.
In their comments to me, folks keep wanting to conflate the two: yes, your dad died; but you have a new grandchild. I have to assume they offer this comfort because it works for them. For me, the substitution of one thing for a lost thing is the proverbial paved road to perdition.
I know the dangers of this path because I’ve tried to follow it. When I was three years old, my first dad, the one I called Daddy Joe, died suddenly and traumatically. Twenty years later—after a lifetime of being assured I was too young to remember my dad and thus wasn’t scarred by his death—I married a man who looked uncannily like Daddy Joe. It did not work out well.
Grief must be dealt with or, sooner or later, grief will drift downstream and like a sea serpent raise its scaly head when you are least expecting it. Substitution is not dealing with grief. It’s flailing around in the grip of grief, trying to extricate yourself, grasping for something that will make the loss go away.
You can’t make the loss go away. The thing you love is gone. Gone. Gone.
Not only will substitution really mess up your decision-making, trying to wedge someone into the role of stand-in is unfair. You are asking the new person to fill a hole that isn’t shaped like him or her. That won’t work, either.
Perhaps folks who pair the baby and my dad are using shorthand to tell me that, though I have grief in my life, I have happiness as well. I can’t tell you how strongly I agree with that statement. But the baby doesn’t make the loss of my dad okay. Losing my dad is not okay. It wasn’t way back when and it sure as hell isn’t now. And although I am beginning to believe in a nonreligious but purely scientific/physics way that a much bigger schema is in place than “Life” and “Death,” I must wait until I too get dead to actually understand it. In the meantime, the physical thing I loved is no longer physical, and regardless of the ways in which the dead re-present—visions, dreams, memories—the physical loss is what it is.
And the baby is what he is too: a doubling of the incredible joy I feel for my first grand baby, which is nearly unimaginable. Surely that’s good enough to stand on its own.

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

baby, birth of grandchild, daddy, death, substitution

Comments (4)

  • As someone who has had a similar set of experiences–I lost a brother and gained a grand nephew–I found this post ringing true in every respect. And I commend the author for putting the issues so clearly and well.
    Let me add that, however much we want to take on someone else’s pain, we cannot do it. We can be present with someone who is suffering and that is way true compassion works.

  • Mary Margaret Hicks

    So powerful, Ellen, so powerful. This so resonated with me. Thank you so much friend. You have been and continue to be such a blessing for me. I miss seeing you. Grace and Peace to you and Tom. MMH

    On Wed, Aug 21, 2013 at 4:44 PM, Ellen Morris Prewitt’s Blog wrote:

    > ** > Ellen Morris Prewitt posted: “Recently, I have had two distinctive > events in my life: the death of my dad and the birth of my second grand > baby. These events are distinctive in the sense of momentous and thus > distinguished from my otherwise normal life. They are also distinctive in > th”

    • Thanks, Mary Margaret. I find writing about grief and death tricky, so I really appreciate it when someone lets me know a piece worked for them. Really hope to see you soon – until then, peace in creativity, Ellen

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