His first prose work, Heaven's Coast (1996) is a grief memoir, written after the death of his beloved partner, Wally Roberts. Having been on my wish list for a long time, I finally ordered from Amazon at the beginning of the year and read it last month.
Heavily dog-eared and underlined, I related to many of his descriptions of death, grief, sorrow and the slow business of recovery.
Wally died in 1994 from AIDS. Mark was with him to the very end and vividly describes the body, post-death:
Without spirit, the body closes back into itself like an old piece of furniture, an armoire whose ancient wood is still fragrant, resinous, whose whorled grains and steady sleep refer back to the living tree. The cabinet is an elegy to the tree from which it arose, the body a brief unkeepable elegy to the quick and shining self.Apt analogy of the indescribable - the non-living body of a beloved.
While waiting for the ambulance to arrive on that horrible day, Josh's body was more a shell of him. And seeing his body again several days later at the funeral home, I remember thinking is this really my son? It does not look like him. The essence - that which made the body Josh, was gone.
The funeral director encouraged us to have an open casket saying that it would be better for his friends if they saw his body - a concrete, visual evidence of his passing would help with closure. So we did have a viewing period before the service began. I spent that time in the lobby, accepting condolences but in hindsight, I would rather have been at the casket to see friends and family say good-bye.
Another moving part of the book was the search for the right word to describe his feelings - I will quote the whole passage as paraphrasing would not do justice:
Grief is too sharp and immediate; maybe it's the high pitch of the vowel sound, or the monosyllabic impact of the word, as quick a jab as knife or cut.
Sadness is too ephemeral, somehow; it sounds like something that comes and goes, a response to an immediate cause which will pass in a little while as another cause arises to generate a different feeling.
Mourning isn't bad, but there's something a little archaic about it. I think of widows keening, striking themselves, clutching at handfuls of dust - dark-swathed years, a closeting of self away from the world, turned inward toward an interior dark.
Sorrow feels right, for now. Sorrow seems large and inhabitable, an interior season whose vaulted sky's a suitable match for the gray and white tumult arched over these headlands. A sorrow is not to be gotten over or moved through in quite the way that sadness is, yet sorrow is also not as frozen and monochromatic, to my mind, as mourning. Sadness exists inside my sorrow, but it's not as large as sorrow's realm; it comes and goes without really touching the overarching whole. This sorrow is capacious; there's room inside it for the everyday, for going about the workday stuff of life....Sorrow is the cathedral, the immense architecture; in it's interior there's room for almost everything: for desire, for flashes of happiness, for making plans for the future. And for watching all those evidences of ongoing life crumble in the flash of remembering, in the recurring wave of fresh grief.In this quote, I love the poet in Doty trying to match word to feeling, and the reasons why grief, sadness and mourning are discarded in favor of sorrow. This rings true and I find comfort in having a word that can encompass all the feelings one may have in a given hour, day, week, month or year(s).
So we are in our 7th summer without Josh. The girls have moved back home and once again, our home is full of energy. And in addition to our two Shih Tzu-poos, Buddy and Benji, we also have Gillian's dog, Huck (formerly Tyler and Em's) and Sydney, Lauren's dog.
We can re-name our home "The Anderson Hotel and Kennel" - which Josh would've loved.
Love you and miss you....