I used to think the digital binge was about my shortcomings. I couldn't help my mother as she sat keening with pain. I stared at the white wall bawling until my sister (a nurse who was doing all the work anyway) mercifully asked me to get something from the other room. But I could set up the laptop near her bed, just in case she wanted to do any typing.
For my father, it was typical "dad response." He could buy stuff and figure it out. He could get wireless Internet for a family full of laptops. Had we wanted the funeral to be like a Broadway show, he would've rented the theater.
And the funeral went off without a hitch. But our penchant for circuitry didn't end there. We bought more to dull the ache: a large-screen television that told us who was calling through its connection to the phone, a light box for seasonal affective disorder, a clock that projected time onto the bedroom ceiling.
Sometimes materialism quells sorrow. My electronics purchases were funded in part with money from my mother's life-insurance policy. After the cash ran out, I felt better—it was never a fair trade from the start. How could it be?
Lately, though, I've come to wonder what prevented us from confronting the magnitude of our loss. This behavior was such an obvious if unconscious retreat. We flicked the off switch in our grief box. Why couldn't we look each other in the eye and say, "The person who loved us most and whom we loved most is gone. I have no more mother/I have no more wife."
Maybe sharing a bathetic moment of understanding would have felt cheap. Even more, I wonder if we would have told the truth instead of obscuring each other with saccharine sayings and a dose of God.
And what is the truth? That death changed us, that our bond felt tenuous.
These days, spending time together has to be enough. Whether we're having a silent drive or an awkward meal, language is bound to struggle.
But recently we've begun exchanging e-mails. My father wrote—and this is something I've never heard him say—"Always remember; my love for you is not conditional.... I love you because you are my lovely daughter, and nothing can ever change that."
At the moment of crisis, we are workers in a hive, busy little bees. We are documentarians, resurrecting the dead in high-definition sound. They say funerals are for the living. But death, too, is all about the living.
Kristy Davis is an assistant editor at O. She is also at work on a collection of short stories.
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