Fortellingen om en roman som ble lagt bort og annen litteratur

So Much Death So Close to Home

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First published in Aftenposten July 27.

Children’s grief is very specific and tangible, it’s a garland of wildflowers and a homemade boat.

Bjørnsund in Romsdal.

My 7-year-old is making a garland of bird’s-foot trefoil and red clover, found on the hillside in her holiday paradise, an archipelago out near the edges of the stark Hustadvik. She’s made wildflower garlands every summer, ended up tanned and toothless – and been photographed.

She’s spent more time than usual in our laps this week, asked different questions and puzzled through thoughts too big for her age, wondered about things far bigger than the question of when her next tooth will loosen.

The 7-year-old’s eyes bore into me, but she isn’t excited as she tends to be when finishing a wildflower garland. We will set it on the ocean in memory of all the youth.

These are the things that make me cry.

Red-letter days

Memories like these are the ones parents and next of kin remember in their darkest moments. An album of pictures of their child during a summer back then; a kid with a self-caught fish in their hand; a light dress and a wildflower wreath in her hair, running after a ball in July’s green paradise. A memory from a vacation, a red-letter day or someone visiting. A class or team picture brought down from its place on the wall and put in an inconsolable lap, along with a remark that works like a burst of light in an endlessly long tunnel.

The 2-year-old declares that he wants to go to the toilet and tears off his diaper; he’s put on the toilet seat – and does his business. He is praised for managing all by himself, and smiles and applauds his own skills. Accomplishments are milestones parents can always date.

Next summer he’ll have started riding a bike, a few years later he’ll toss his backpack for school in a corner, the summer after that he’ll be sailing a boat alone in the harbour basin, and the time will come when he no longer wants to join family vacations, but will leave with someone he knows, someone he agrees with more. Maybe he’ll travel to a political youth camp, and I cry again, this time for parents who have to take the difficult walk up and down the stairs to their kid’s room to look back at proud moments in the lives of their child. I cry picturing two perturbed parents in a room like that: A backpack in a corner, waiting for fall; on the desk a PC that only needs a small touch to light up. It was left logged on, and now the facebook page is an altar of candles, memories, worried questions and vanished hopes. The bed in the room is in disarray, it’s been left in a hurry and looks like whoever slept there planned on returning.

Definite things

I cry when the radio or TV bring me the story of a relative left behind, a strong mother or father who can put into words that first, immediate loss. Behind every straight back there are scores of people who can’t manage that. Maybe they will be comforted by going through their child’s possessions, specific items they can hold in their hands, items that give them stories to share. A drawing from years past, a piece made at the school wood shop that was brought home and kept, no matter the quality of the workmanship, which only now becomes a precious object. A pair of football shoes, a bike he or she practiced riding on, a fishing pole leaning against the wall, looking like a gigantic silver pin, waiting to be cast again.

In the evening, my 4-year-old wants to make a boat. We go down to the dock, find board, saw, nails. The 4-year-old wants it to happen quickly.

The boat isn’t pretty, it really isn’t, but it’s still the best thing we’ve done together so far this vacation. He makes plans to draw and cut out pretty flags we can hang on the mast, including a pirate flag. The rail on the wooden boat is made by non-galvanized nails and a pink silk ribbon found in a drawer, left over after the wedding nine years ago. «We need a railing so the children won’t fall overboard,» he explains.

I draw the ribbon around the nails, and he’s standing next to me, anticipating, breathing steadily; he is silent. A little too silent, a little too long. And then the 4-year-old has made up his mind:

«We can set the boat to sea for the dead people. They deserve that much.»

I turn away again, towards the ocean.

On our way here we drove past the place where a 19-year-old girl lost her life in a car accident the night before. Out there, beyond the islets, the boat «Rokta» foundered. The book «Bjørnsund in pictures» is full of the names of people lost at sea, just like the news media have been this summer.

So much death in these barren skerries that are so important in our lives.


At Bjørnsund, a memorial statue is placed, remembering a woman who sat on a rock slope, waiting for her family. The boat had gone missing, but this coastal lady, mother, head of family stared out at the horizon, waiting.

Eventually exhaustion made her fall over, into the sea, where she drowned. She is the most tangible thing around which we can spin the story of the last week of July 2011. When the fog lifts and the rock slopes dry, she is the one we can visit.

Us adults can repeat the story of her destiny, look at the three bright-haired kids, exchange glances and wonder: What do children think of the powerless way adults grieve? When they themselves hold such obvious solutions in their hands: They have both wildflower garlands and homemade boats to comfort the dead.


(Translated by Siri K. Gaski)

Vidar Kvalshaug (b. 1970) is author of seven fiction books, three children books and works as a literary critic in the newspaper Aftenposten in Norway







Written by Vidar Kvalshaug

28.07.11 kl. 12:51

Publisert i Uncategorized

3 kommentar

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  1. […] “Så mye død så nær hjemme” av Vidar Kvalshaug. (Engelsk versjon: “So Much Death So Close To Home“) […]

  2. Så sterkt og sårt. Takk.


    29.07.11 at 22:05

  3. So moving. Thank you for sharing.


    15.08.11 at 06:48

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