Day 208: the continuation of love

“Grief is the continuation of love.”

(Robert C. Solomon, In Defense of Sentimentality, 2004, p.90)

A couple of sessions ago, Dr. F asked me if I felt angry with my father when he died. After thinking it over I said no, that while I was angry more generally, I didn’t feel anger directed specifically at him.

But later I remembered that, yes, I had actually felt angry about something quite specific; and I had also felt—still feel—embarrassed by this anger; perhaps that’s why I didn’t think of it or didn’t mention it when she asked, because it felt too trivial.

When my mother told me on the phone that my father was dead, the thought that shuddered through my mind like an electric shock was “but he promised me that he wouldn’t die.”

This promise—to perhaps state the obvious—was one he made to me when I was a young child. As a child, I worried a lot about my parents dying—not that they would die in an accident or something; simply the prospect that I would one day have to live in the world without them caused me immense distress. I remember crying in bed and being unable to go to sleep because the idea was so awful to me.

I’m probably conflating a lot of different memories here—but what I have experienced as a distinct memory for a long time is this: I am in bed and both of my parents are in the room near my bed. I am younger than eleven because I’m in the bedroom I shared with my brother until that age. I am crying and begging them to promise me they won’t die. My Mum promises me that she won’t die until she is a “very very old woman,” which doesn’t make me feel better at all. My Dad promises me he won’t die and, while my Mum makes disapproving noises at his making such a promise, I immediately feel better, like a weight has been lifted.

Obviously, even if I believed him at the time, I understood as I grew older that this was not a promise he could keep. And it didn’t bother me; I understood it as something he’d told me at the time to comfort me and make me feel safe, knowing that I wasn’t yet able or ready to live with the truth.

It was therefore surprising to me to find how violently this sense of the promise having being broken coursed through me at the moment I learned of my Dad’s death.


I’ve been reading a book by the late philosopher, Peter Goldie, called The Mess Inside (OUP, 2012), which is about the importance of narrative to the way we experience emotions. One of his insights is that, when we reflect upon past experiences, we often inhabit a point-of-view that Goldie views as the “psychological correlate” of free indirect style. What he means by this is that, when we reflect on the past, we encounter “an unelectable ironic gap (epistemic, evaluative, and emotional) between internal and external perspective”; and that when we inhabit this point of view, it performs the same function of free indirect style: that is, “simultaneously closing the ironic gap and drawing attention to its distance” (43, 48).

I’ve been rereading Pride and Prejudice this week for my class on the novel with Goldie’s observations in mind. Austen is famous for her use of free indirect style; but what I now notice is that she also puts her characters in situations where they inhabit the point of view that Goldie suggests is the psychological correlate of free indirect style. So, for example, the following sentence describing Lizzy reflecting on Wickham’s past behavior is not in free indirect style, but it expresses the point of view that concerns Goldie:

“She was now struck with the impropriety of such communications to a stranger, and wondered it had escaped her before.”

Or consider another example, which is both in free indirect style and represents its psychological correlate in such a way that proliferates the number of viewpoints that the sentence brings together: the free indirect style merges narrator and Lizzy, and the retrospective point of view merges present Lizzy with past Lizzy. Again, here, Lizzy is reflecting on Wickham:

“How differently did every thing now appear in which he was concerned!”

Goldie focuses on grief as a case study of this way of narratively thinking about the past. As he observes, in grief, “you remember the last time you saw the person you loved, not knowing, as you do now, that it was to be the last time. And this irony, through the psychological correlate of free indirect style, will infect the way you remember it” (65).

Goldie describes here exactly how I think about lying with my head on my Dad’s knee while he stroked my hair, the night before he died. He died when I had just turned eighteen, at a time when our relationship was combative. Our conversations always turned into arguments in those days. But his stroking my hair and back, as he always had, still soothed me. That memory took on an aching poignancy after his sudden death because of not knowing at the time, but knowing ever after, that it was the last time.

Another insight Goldie makes about grief is that it does not endure but, rather, perdures. Things that perdure tend to be processes as opposed to states. To say that a process perdures is to say that “its identity is not determined at every moment of its existing” (61). This is very abstract; a helpful example of a thing that perdures that Goldie takes from the philosophers Thomas Hofweber and David Velleman, is the process of writing a check. Here are Hofweber and Velleman:

“A process of writing a cheque is a temporally extended process, with temporal parts consisting in the laying down of each successive drop of ink. What there is of this process at a particular moment – the laying down of a particular drop – is not sufficient to determine that a cheque is being written, and so it is not sufficient to determine which particular process is taking place. That particular drop of ink could have been deposited at that moment, just as it actually was, without other drops’ being deposited at other moments in such a way as to constitute the same process. Not only, then, is the process not present in its temporal entirety within the confines of the moment: it is not fully determined by the events of the moment to be the process that it is.” [1]

Goldie’s point, in bringing the concept of perduring to grief, is that grief, like writing a check, is a process with many features, “none of which is essential at any given particular time” (62). This observation might seem obvious or banal but I think it’s actually profound. It is its perduring quality that makes grief so particular, and so painful. Goldie quotes a passage from C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed (1961), a passage that captures the way that grief’s capacity to subside for a while is part of its agony:

“It’s not true that I’m always thinking of H. Work and conversation make that impossible. But the times when I’m not are perhaps my worst. For then, though I have forgotten the reason, there is spread over everything a vague sense of wrongness, of something amiss. Like in those dreams where nothing terrible occurs—nothing that would sound even remarkable if you told it at breakfast-time—but the atmosphere, the taste, of the whole thing is deadly. So with this. I see the rowan berries reddening and don’t know for a moment why they, of all things, should be depressing. I hear a clock strike and some quality it always had before has gone out of the sound. What’s wrong with the world to make it so flat, shabby, worn-out looking? Then I remember.”

I remember, after my Dad died, the feeling of awakening, day after day, from the oblivion of sleep into the memory of loss. Every night I would forget, and every morning I would remember.

This is part of grief’s cruelty; if it was enduring rather than perduring, perhaps you could get used to it. But there’s no getting used to it nor getting over it either, not so long as you love the person you have lost; for grief, as Robert Solomon writes, is the continuation of love. As Goldie cites Wittgenstein,“‘grief’ describes a pattern which recurs, with different variations, in the weave of our life” (from the Philosophical Investigations, cited in Goldie, 62).

Like writing a check, grief perdures. The analogy only goes so far. Unlike writing a check, there’s no being done with grief. It’s a check you’re forever writing that never gets deposited. It’s a check that, like a reckless promise, can’t be cashed.



[1] The Philosophical Quarterly, Volume 61, Issue 242, January 2011, Pages 37–57, p.50.



Day 195: the place where we live

Donald Winnicott’s 1968 paper, “The Place Where We Live,” asks “where are we when we are doing what in fact we do a great deal of our time, namely, enjoying ourselves?” He notes that psychoanalysis tends to dwell either on a person’s experience in the world of objects—the outer world—or the world of dreams—the inner world. But there is a third zone, Winnicott says, where we live when we do things like “listening to a Beethoven symphony or making a pilgrimage to a picture gallery or reading Troilus and Cressida in bed, or playing tennis.” (In case his reader finds these examples too egregiously highbrow, he rather endearingly also throws in the example of teenagers “participating in a pop session.”)

It struck me walking back from drop off this morning that the place where the kids and I had been living this morning, Friday December 14, 2018, was precisely such an intermediate zone, raucous and poignant, sacred and profane, in which cultural references piled up and ran together. It was a zone in which the children tried (again) to teach me Orange Justice, at once delighted and horrified by my poor execution. It was a zone in which I read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe aloud to the younger over the breakfast table while she ate yogurt and drew characters from Naruto.

We were (we remain!) at a climactic moment in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. It is the middle of the night: Lucy and Susan, unable to sleep, follow the lion, Aslan, into the woods. He sees them and tells them that they may walk with him if they promise to leave when he says so. They walk on in the woods. The girls notice he seems dejected and ask him what is wrong. “I am sad and lonely,” he tells them, “lay your hands on my mane so that I can feel you are there and let us walk like that.” Then Lewis writes,

And so the girls did what they would never have dared to do without his permission, but what they had longed to do ever since they first saw him—buried their cold hands in the beautiful sea of fur and stroked it and, so doing, walked with him.

Reading the words aloud this morning reminded me of how viscerally this passage affected me when I first read it. As a child, reading these words made me realize that I too longed to touch Aslan, to bury my hands and face in his mane and smother him with kisses, as Lucy and Susan do before he leaves them to walk alone to the Stone Table, where the White Witch waits. Even as a child, my pleasure in Lewis’s evocation of Aslan’s lioness was bittersweet; that sentences could conjure such a semblance of softness and warmth seemed almost cruel, all the better to leave one feeling cold and alone when the image vanished—a bit the way, I thought to myself now, over the breakfast table, that enchanted Turkish Delight leaves Edmund longing for more .

I was adrift in these thoughts when the elder chimed in, ominously, as if he were a spy uttering a secret password, “The lion sleeps tonight.”

Then he added, “Was The Lion King really big when you were young, Mom?

“No, I was too old for The Lion King. But I loved that song when I was a kid.”

I found the song on my phone. Not the original—the version that was a hit in early 1982, when I was seven.

It transported me—not to the jungle, the mighty jungle, I hasten to add, but rather to the exotic climes of our living room in Tufnell Park, where I sat cross-legged on the floor, glued to Top of the Pops, completely entranced and quite sure that I would be perfectly happy to listen to a loop of the chorus (the part where the lead vocalist sings Weeheeheehee, dee heeheeheehee, weeoh aweem away) forever and ever.

(This feeling, apparently, runs in the family: I am typing this, I swear to God, to a background soundtrack of “in the jungle, the mighty jungle” in an endless loop, as the younger sings to herself in the bath).

At bedtime, I suppose—when she gets out of the bath, that is—we’ll pick up where we left off—at the stone table.


It’s time.

The lion sleeps tonight.