CW: This might be a hard one for some of you as there are mentions of suicide. Feel free to stop here if you need to.
“Days are not the only place where we live, Nikolai said.
Time is not the only place where we live, I said.
Days are. I don’t have to have days to live now.
And yet I have to live in days, I said.
I’m sorry, he said.
Days: the easiest possession, requiring only automatic participation. The days he had refused would come, one at a time. Neither my allies nor my enemies, they would wait, every daybreak, with their boundless patience and indifference, seeing if they could turn me into a friend or an enemy to myself.
Never apologize, I said, for what you have let go.”
Where Reasons End is a love letter from a mother to her dead son. She lived. He died. Same illness, different outcomes.
The past year has been a difficult one for me in terms of navigating the idea of mortality. It seems like the older I get, the more I understand the fact that this thing called death is about to become a constant companion. But what do we do as those who are left living when those who we love take an earlier exit on the freeway of life, particularly when it’s suicide? What do we do to fill up the space and time? Where do we direct the love? What happens after those we love ‘choose’ death over living?
What’s interesting about this particular kind of death is the fact that it makes us realize how much love is a selfish thing. When ‘loved ones’ die, do we feel their pain or do we feel the pain of having lost? I dare say, loving others is an act of service to ourselves, if you don’t believe me just look at the questions we ask ourselves when they die. Seeking reasons for their death is seeking answers for our continued living. The first question many people ask after the act is why? “They seemed so happy. They were so successful. Did I miss the signs? Could I have prevented this?” Somewhere hidden in these thoughts is a question we often dread to ask ourselves when we feel rejected, “Was I not enough?” We feel as if by them ‘choosing’ death, it is as if they are not choosing us. Of course, I use the term ‘choose’ lightly because I have neither the professional qualification nor the experiential understanding of what surrounds suicide. What I simply offer is a mental rumination attempting to claim that it’s not that simple. There are no reasons. It just is. But a simple answer like this is never enough as the author of Where Reasons End illustrates by nevertheless trying to find the answers.
In this fictional biography, Yiyun Li, mother to Nikolai, attempts to find the answers for her son’s death through a series of imagined conversations. The text is as poetic as it is painful. However, it is the journey many of us who have lost a loved one to this illness might perhaps venture into to seek some healing. Going through the book, you see the love between a mother and a son translated into conversations about grammar, poetry, knitting and baking. Joyful reminiscing about beautiful times shared lies in proximity to agonizing reminders of years that will not be lived and memories that will never get to be made. The two characters are quite alike and yet so different. Their shared loved for the English language is as strong as their obstinate desire to be right. In the end, Li realizes that there are no reasons to be sought. No closure to be had. Instead what remains is the never ending questions. The lump that never shrinks. The hole that will never be filled. The mother who lost her 16 year old son. The son whose story will never get to be fully understood. Such is life. Or should I say, such is death? Or does saying one imply the other? Either way, if you are ever curious about the constancy that is dying, this might be an useful place to start.
PS: It’s summer time so book meditations are about to become more regular. I have been fortunate to commune with a couple of meaningful books so far this year, as such, I will also be doing some backlog work.
Sending love and light!