(From November 2015) Carol’s book is not a book about death.
This is a book about living.
Last week was a great week for the book. We spread the word, and won new fans in Greenville SC, Spartanburg SC, and the Louisiana Book Festival in Baton Rouge. Between Tuesday evening at 7 pm in Greenville and Saturday morning at 10:45 am at the Louisiana Book Festival, I delivered Carol’s message six times, and each time I said, “This is a book about living.”
In the Catholic Church, November 2 is All Souls Day—a day of death--the day set aside to remember and pray for family members and friends who’ve died. At our parish in Roanoke, Virginia, there’s a touching service on Sunday afternoon. Family members and friends carry candles to remember those who’ve died in the last year.
I was on the road Sunday, and I wasn’t able to be there for the service. Bienta (Giles’ widow) and our son Chad carried the candle for Carol.
I don’t have any trouble remembering that Carol is dead. I do notice, however, that lots of people have trouble with that word. She “passed away.” She “passed on.” She is “at peace.”
I know she died. Dead. That’s the word.
We are in the eleventh month since her death. Seems like yesterday and forever at the same time.
Day of the Dead.
Commemoration of All Faithful Departed.
Dia de Los Muertos.
I wrote the Afterword to the paperback of Carol’s book in September, 2014. By that time, we knew what was going to happen, but we didn’t know when it would happen. She’d been in hospice since August, and we were in “surrender” mode. In my Afterword, I talk about the Mexican-Aztec traditions surrounding “Dia de Los Muertos,” and the idea (described by writer Victor Landa) that a person has three deaths. The first death, when the space Carol occupied lost its meaning, had already occurred by September. She had slipped away. The second death, when she drew her last breath, was in the evening hours of Sunday, December 14, 2014. The third death in the legend comes when her name is no longer spoken on earth. After that, she is “on the other side of eternity.” Of course, because of the treasure of her writing, it will be many, many years before that third death occurs.
But there is more.
I think about her all the time, but I can’t quite get a grip on where she’s gone. I just know she is not here—anywhere. I have been on quite an unexpected journey since December 14. I had no idea what this would feel like, and it has been a tumble of unexpected emotions.
Her presence—or more accurately, her absence--dominates every day. It is constant. I don’t know where she is. I just know she is not here—anywhere. Not in the Teton Mountains of Montana or the Badlands of South Dakota, where I travelled this summer to talk about her and her book. Not in the endless ocean I could see from Charleston and Pawley’s Island. And, to paraphrase what C.S. Lewis said after the loss of his wife, Joy, if I could look behind every star in the heavens, she would not be there, either.
But a strange thing is happening to me. To say “I don’t know where she is” could be considered a doubting statement. Consider this—“I don’t know where she is—yet.” I think that is a faith-filled, faithful statement. My friend Martha likes to say there is “wonderment.” (I argue with her wording, pointing out that “wonder” is quite sufficient.) As I look at all the “wonder,” I try to embrace the fact that I am not the center of this universe, and that there is beauty and faith in uncertainty.
Paul Tillich, Christian existentialist theologian, says that the opposite of faith is not doubt, it is certainty. If that is true, then my faith is growing. To again lean on C.S. Lewis, I think that I am beginning to “misunderstand a little less completely.”
In Baton Rouge, I spent some time with Peter Golden, a very smart guy and a great writer. He has a new novel coming out Tuesday, November 3—Wherever There is Light. Buy it and read it. I told Peter part of my story, and he came to hear me talk in Baton Rouge on Saturday morning. I went to hear him on Saturday afternoon. He gave me a great quote from Hemingway. In Death in the Afternoon, Hemingway writes--
"There are some things which cannot be learned quickly, and time, which is all we have, must be paid heavily for their acquiring. They are the very simplest things and because it takes a man's life to know them the little new that each man gets from life is very costly and the only heritage he has to leave."
Wow—Ernest Hemingway, Paul Tillich, C.S. Lewis, and Dia de Los Muertos.
The wonder of it all.