Bittersweet Association, Farewell Maurice Sendak

This morning I found out that Maurice Sendak, author of Where the Wild Things Are, has died.  And I am surprised by how upsetting I find this news.

So many others love the book, and Sendak by extension, because of what is in the book itself mixed in with positive memories of reading it, perhaps with parents or other loved ones.  But the fact of the matter is my attachment to the book is all jumbled up with my attempt (as well as that of my extended family) to say goodbye to my grandfather.

There are so many good and wonderful things to know, remember and love about Where the Wild Things Are, as Stephanie Zvan put it earlier this morning,

Max was everything that is least likable about young children–but he was loved. That was important.

Yet despite the very powerful stuff inherent to the book, it would never have become any more important to me than say, What a Mess The Good, had my great aunt never given me a copy as my grandfather (a de-facto third parent) lay in a hospital bed, recovering from surgery that had no chance of helping him survive terminal cancer.  Inside the book cover she wrote me a message, where she tried to convey to a half grown child her admiration and gratitude for the deadly serious and earnest way I had tried to keep my grandfather’s spirits up, with artwork, crafts, audio recordings, whatever I could.

I don’t doubt I was also in a way trying to comfort myself.  That was a common story that people in my sprawling extended family told: that they came to try to comfort my grandfather and found themselves comforted instead.  I don’t know whether his general serenity was heartfelt or artifice (or some combination of both), but he was such a joyous person in life, it would not have surprised me if he truly was able to find some peace as he was dying.  I am certain he believed he was rejoining his late wife; he held on far longer than even the most positive prognosis, and finally stopped fighting on the anniversary of my grandmother’s death.  I do not doubt that he chose to die on that day.

Whatever is the case, that book became a treasured relic of the shittiest time in my young life.  No matter how angry or fucked up I was, it was a symbol that I had family still that loved and admired me, and that the hurt I felt from being emotionally tied to others was worth it.

The news that Sendak has died has left me unexpectedly distraught.  Because for all that the book was a positive symbol, it’s still inextricably tied up with an old grief.  Today I learn that not only was Sendak a man who was unafraid of telling children the truth, but he was in fact, gay.  He came out three years ago to a New York Times reporter.  It’s sad to think that we have lost not only a beloved children’s author, but a more rare creature, a beloved gay children’s author.

Farewell, Maurice Sendak.  You will be missed.

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