When the Magic Fades

The magic thread of its huge haunting spell,
And that linked his life to magic kingdoms
And to lotus-land
--Tom Wolfe

He'd tried his best. For the last twelve weeks, he'd hung his father's shirts on the branches of a tree at Smedley Park, watched a horse race across the field at Linvilla, set his Dad's shoes out on the porch, waited for a train that never came, and watched a ship with a mysterious symbol on its hull float down the Delaware River. He'd kept hope alive in his heart, even as it grew fainter with each passing day, trying to read into the world around him clues about his father's return.

Despite it all, despite his fervent wish, despite the magical thinking that kept him from grieving too deeply, his dad hadn't come back. And now, as more and more pieces of his father were packed up and put away and the sounds of his father's voice became fainter in his memory, he began to think that maybe the magic wouldn't work. Maybe, wherever his father had gone, he just wasn't coming back.

"Why wouldn't Dad want to come back?" Allen asks me one evening.


Inwardly, I sigh. It has been a common theme of our conversation the last three months. Patiently, I give him the same answer I have been giving him all along.  "I'm sure he wants to come back," I say in a level tone. "But I don't think he can. It's like he's in another dimension in heaven. He just can't take a train or a boat to get back to us."

"Sounds stupid to me," says my son who lives on the upper edges of the autism spectrum and understands the world in the most concrete of terms. "If he wants to come back, he should be allowed to."

Ever since Ron passed away in his sleep, quietly slipping from us while my daughter and I were visiting my father, I have struggled to help Allen accept the finality of death. It is a concept illogical to most on the autism spectrum who find comfort in the ability to control the world around them, a world they often find too loud, too colorful, too busy. I have tried to make Allen's life predictable again with routines for the two of us: who cooks dinner, who cleans up, who does the laundry. Every Friday night is market night and take-out supper; every Monday night is pasta and a movie. The routines help Allen whose emotions have been scrambled by his deep loss (Indiana University, 2019). 
Image result for magical thinking


And I have accepted the pieces of magical thinking that has found us spending most Saturdays searching for clues to Ron's return, seeing each of Allen's ideas as a step he needed to take in order to mourn his dad. I have put no time table on it, resolving to participate in the magical journeys as long as Allen needed them.

But the magic appears to be fading. It has been two weeks since we have waited at a train station or checked the shirt Allen hung on a tree. 

"The thing that really bothers me," and Allen pounds his fist on the table to make his point, "is that the night Dad...left"--his voice catches on the word--"he didn't say good-bye. " His voice drops to a whisper. "I wish he'd said good-bye. Then I could have said good-bye to him."

"I know," I tell my son. "I wish that, too. But I don't think Dad knew he was leaving, that God was going to call him to Heaven. I don't think he had time to say good-bye."

"I was just upstairs," says Allen. "If he'd called me, I would have come downstairs."

"I know," I assure him. "And Dad knew you loved him."

Image result for magical thinkingAllen nods his head sadly and is silent for a few moments. I wait, giving him time to process. Then he heaves a huge sigh--full of loss and pain--and closes his eyes. From experience, I know that he is putting his words together carefully. "I guess," he says after a while, "the only thing left to do is to find a way to honor him."

My heart soars. This is a huge step towards acceptance. I nod my head.

"What would you suggest?" I ask.

He shrugs. "Well, maybe like once a month we could cook his favorite foods and play his favorite game," he says.

"That would be good."

"And at Christmas we could still hang his stocking."

Image result for Dad christmas stocking
"Definitely."

"And once in a while we can go outside at night and look at the stars. And think that Dad is looking at them, too."

I hold back my tears and nod. "Sounds good. And when Bonnie and Dennis are here on Sunday for your birthday, we're going to go put the flag from the VA on Dad's grave."

He is thoughtful. "My first birthday without Dad."

"I know. It's sad, but we'll all be together."

"Okay. Maybe we can sing the birthday song in the off-key crazy way Dad had."

"Of course," I say. "It's a family tradition."

Allen smiles at me and walks into the kitchen to get a snack. "I'm making you tea!" he says.

"Nice," I say. Magical thinking may not bring his father back, but it has been helping Allen cope with his loss and move into a world without his father at his own pace and in his own time. I hear him in the kitchen now, talking to himself as he fills the tea kettle, takes a mug from the cabinet, gathers up the creamer and the sugar. Step by step, he reminds himself what needs to be done. He gets to the other side of the task.

He, like his brother and sister, is getting to the other side, beginning to imagine life without Ron.

I look at the family picture on the shelf next to my desk, a photo taken years ago when the kids were small and Ron was well. On some plane, on some level, Ron still exists. Then I feel a tear escape from my eye. I, too, am learning to move into a life without my husband. 

I think I am going to miss the Saturday journeys. Even though I knew Allen's magical thinking would not bring Ron back, it was nice to keep the magic alive just a while longer. 


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