We focus mostly on the downsides of death, divorce, and catastrophe. To speak of positive outcomes from terrible things is equivalent to laughing at a funeral and then having sex in the cloakroom on the way out. It just isn’t done.
When your dad died, I fell into a rotten funk. I wore his bathrobe all the time. It was so old that it predated my appearance in his life by decades. You could have carbon dated that thing. I’d put on my regular clothes as if I were a normal person, and then I’d pull the ratty bathrobe on over the top. I went out of the house dressed that way more times than I can admit. During the months after he departed, Bombay gin became my intimate friend, and I lived off martinis and Milk Duds.
But even during the worst of those days, my spirit saw glimmers of lightness. I had moments when I realized I was going to be okay—and surprisingly, I even had times when I suspected I might end up magnificent. When a spouse exits, for whatever reason, you have this rare opportunity to reinvent yourself. What you buy and do and think—all up for grabs. You can rearrange the time of day when you sleep and how often you bathe and how you wear your hair. No one cares. No one is harmed by your becoming someone different.
There’s an awfulness in that void of no one caring—but also a deliciousness. I don’t like saying this out loud, for fear of offending almost everyone. But I’m telling you, my son, because I don’t want you to worry that I’m withering away over here, and also because I want you to know that I’ll leave on this trip to Brazil with cheerful, reckless abandon. I don’t want to die—but I don’t care that much if something bad happens while I’m there, because now I know about the glints of light. No matter how bad, always there are glints of light.
Jill Riddell is a writer in Chicago. She teaches at the School of the Art Institute and has a weakness for nature, magic, and pennies abandoned in sidewalk cracks.