There’s a Gaping Hole in the Livingroom Wall

The Civil War brought us death on a massive scale, and I’ve read how people turned to seances. First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln held seances too. The Spiritualist movement was already in place by the time of the war, but certainly so much violent death spurred more people to try so-called spirit circles. (Aaron Mahnke’s podcast series Unobscured is a must if you’re interested.)

The other thing the Civil War made popular was embalming. Families wanted their dead brought home, and lacking refrigeration and fast travel, something had to be done.

We’re close to 400,000 Covid-19 deaths as I write this. (Something like 620,000 Americans died in the Civil War.) What changes regarding death will it bring? Religious practices might change and things will be more virtual.

But regardless, grief is always with us. I’ve been thinking a great deal about how differently people handle grief. I have a real life interest because I often compare (rightly or wrongly) my own grief process to others. (I recommend Griefcast, funny people talking about death.) I’m fascinated by people who seem so very unbothered by grief. They aren’t callous or unloved people or anything. But they never seem shattered or unmoored. They’re sad and then they go on about their day. On the other end of that spectrum are the people who can’t get out of bed or take to self-medicating or what have you. It is clear they are lost in deep grief sea.

The other day, I thought of loss like a house. (I tend to think of writing like a house and I’ve written stories about magic houses and I dream about houses, so make of that what you will.)

So it seems that a death is like a cannonball crashing through a wall of your house. There’s now a big hole in the wall. It’s shocking even if you saw the cannonball coming. There’s a gaping hole. Now what?

Some people make repairs. Voila! Eventually no one can tell a hole was there. Everything looks the same as before. Sometimes they look at the wall and sigh, remembering. But everything looks fine to guests.

Some people take the opportunity, however unwanted, to remodel. Maybe they’ll make the hole a window or a door. Maybe even the entire wall is just taken out. Things won’t look like they did, but the best has been made of a mess.

Some people leave the hole. It’s jagged. It’s letting in bugs or letting out heat. It makes guests uncomfortable if it doesn’t keep them away.

And some people leave the hole but decorate it. They kind of fix it. They manage. They may call it an art project or their quirky decorating style. Anyone can see it, but it doesn’t look half bad.

A lot may depend on the house. Does it have strong foundations? Lots of support beams? Are there many other rooms or just the one?

On Facebook, some friends always post something to acknowledge a death. It reminds me of the death notices and reminders I saw in Bulgaria.

Some of my American friends found them morbid and weird. I thought they were surprising and sad but also wonderful.

Every year I post something to remember my mom, whose birthday is today. (Happy Ghost Birthday, Mom!) Perhaps people think it’s morbid. I’m okay with that. Because I’m the sort of person who still has the hole in the wall of the house. I’ve kind of fixed it. It doesn’t look half bad. It’s decorated.


Thanks for reading.

For conversations about grief, go here.



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6 thoughts on “There’s a Gaping Hole in the Livingroom Wall

  1. Some years go — 20, maybe more — I was seeing a therapist to help me deal with some personal stuff. I saw him weekly for maybe 18 months, and naturally, during that time the topic of dreams came up. (He wasn’t a Freudian or even Jungian — not someone who, y’know, depended on dreams for a living. We pretty much just talked, with questions scattered here and there.) So eventually, as always happens when two people talk so much: dreams.

    ANYWAY, at some point shortly before the therapy concluded, I think, I was telling Dr W about a long involved dream I’d had the night before. In it, I’d explored a rickety old house in a tree — not a treehouse, though, just a REAL house which happened to be in a tree. A maple, I think. In hindsight, the really striking thing was that you had to walk through the house from one door, through each room, and out the door on the far side — and when I exited, on one side of the door was the word “EXIT” – and on the other side of the door, just above the lintel, was a shelf on which sat a live version of the Cheshire Cat, looking down at me…

    W listened to the whole thing, kind of smiling slightly, and when I was done he said, “You remember a HELL of a lot about your dreams.” He said I seemed to remember practically everything in a scene, details about street intersections and so on, but that I apparently specialized in dreams about buildings — especially houses.

    So, I asked him, what if anything might it mean — that I dream a lot about houses or buildings?

    “I’m not really into interpreting dreams,” he said. But he added that it was commonly a view of psychologists that clients’ dreams about buildings, especially about houses, tended to be dreams about the dreamers’ own psyches: they were dreaming about their own minds, souls, what-have-you. If your eyes in the dream were drawn to a particularly striking feature — a snow globe, say, with green snow instead of white, or wallpaper those design moved around the wall — then that feature represented something in the client’s mind: not a real, objective green-snow globe or other object, but a feeling or an experience that the client knows about, regards as important, but suddenly and subconsciously needs to bring to their own attention.

    That notion, obviously, has stuck with me over the years. I don’t dream as much, or maybe just don’t remembers a much. But every time I tell The Missus or a friend about an involved dream centered on a very particular sort of house, even though which sort changes from dream to dream, I remember that conversation with Dr. W.

    1. Well that’s something to think about. I usually dream about confusing houses, houses in which I keep looking for something and everything keeps changing, or I think I have privacy and then the walls disappear. So…that’s my mind for you!

      1. “The” house in your dream sounds something like this place.

        Episodes of the old Brit TV show The Avengers occasionally featured quite strikingly confusing, jumbled floor plans or timelines which seemed, inevitably, to involve Mrs Peel’s capture. She might be knocked out, say, and wake up in a room which was always the same… but in a different century (with decor and costumes as appropriate). In that episode, as I remember, the diabolical villain had built a suite of four different centuries in the house’s history, and installed it on a large turntable-like floor. So just rotating the turntable could “change” the mid-1960s into the 17th century or whatever. Something like that, anyhow.

    2. I love the Winchester House! I hope to see it for myself eventually. It may not surprise you that I have an entire novel set in a house that keeps changing. Of course.

  2. I like your metaphor. I have a lot of holes in my wall. One day, there’ll be so many holes It’ll be one big hole and I’ll step right through it. Then I won’t be sad anymore; I’ll be on an adventure!

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