Watching a loved one die is one of the most difficult events a person can experience in life. Some people come to terms with the death of their loved one, reconcile their differences, and their death brings acceptance and closure. For others, a family member’s death leaves them with a sense of regret and guilt. Alice Elliott Dark’s short story “In The Gloaming” shows examples of how people react and cope with the death of a loved one. The different ways Janet and Martin handle Laird’s illness and death are respective of their relationships with him. Martin has little or no relationship with his son. He chooses to ignore Laird entirely and disregard his illness. Janet, on the other hand, chooses to reestablish a connection with Laird. They bond over their nightly talks and build a strong relationship. When Laird passes away, Janet becomes the strong one and Martin is left feeling regretful, wondering what his son was really like.
The bond between a parent and child can be the strongest relationship in a person’s life. As Janet ponders, “Friends had the option of cutting her off, and Martin could always ask for a divorce, whereas Laird was a captive audience.” Unlike any other relationship, the connection that can be established between a parent and child is strong, fulfilling, and vitally important to a person’s happiness. In the short story “In The Gloaming”, Alice Elliott Dark shows how the relationships Janet and Martin have with Laird determine how they handle and cope with his illness and death.
Martin’s continued absence and denial during Laird’s illness and death leaves him with overwhelming guilt from his lack of a relationship with Laird and causes him to be curious about his son’s life. Martin is described several times throughout the story as being obsessed with his work. Janet has continually made excuses for his absences, telling Laird, “ He had a phone call to make”. Laird sees through the guise. The narrator describes Laird catching Janet in “the central lie of her life.” Besides being a workaholic, Martin seems to have no interest in either his wife or his children. It is obvious his marriage to Janet has not been a happy one. He was constantly away at work leaving her to raise Laird and his sister Anne. The only conversation between Martin and Janet occurs after Laird has died. The author’s use of the word “chasm” to describe the space between the two beds is very descriptive of the divide between Martin and Janet. As distant of a relationship Martin has with Janet, his communication with Laird is nonexistent. The fact that there is not a single line of dialogue in the story between Martin and Laird is very telling about their relationship; there wasn’t one.
Although Laird’s homosexuality is not specifically stated in the story, it is strongly implied. This could be a central reason for their lack of communication. Martin may have been ashamed of his son. Laird having contracted AIDS would have caused even further embarrassment for Martin. The most telling part about their lack of a relationship is when Martin runs off quickly after dinner and Laird says to his mother, “I don’t think Dad can stand to be around me.” Janet, trying to keep Laird from feeling bad, responds, “That’s not true.” In the very next line, the narrator corrects her, “It was true.”
Martin has absolutely no interest in getting to know his son or developing a connection with him. It isn’t until after Laird’s death that there is even any dialogue from Martin. The complete silence prior to Laird’s passing and the immediate sobbing and conversation from Martin afterwards shows the change in him. The regret from all the years of neglecting and ignoring Laird comes crashing down on him at once. Finally, after years of near disownment, he realizes he entirely missed out on the life of his only son. The guilt he must have felt would have been unbearable. Janet took advantage of the chances she had in establishing a relationship with Laird. Martin missed out on them. In the last paragraph of the story, reminiscent of his absence during Laird’s childhood, Martin must rely on the only thing he has left, what Janet tells him about his son.
Janet, in complete contrast to Martin, reestablishes communication with Laird, forging a strong relationship and giving her the strength to carry on after his death. When Laird comes home to die, Janet becomes his caregiver. Laird has full-time hospice nursing care, but it is Janet who truly cares for him. Prior to Laird’s illness and move home, Janet had no strong friendships or connections. Martin is distant, physically and emotionally, Anne is married with her own children, and Laird is off living his life. When Laird moves home, Janet yearns to talk to him and get to know him. She wants to know about his life, what he likes, if he loved and was loved.
Laird, in turn, wants to know about her, where she came from, and what she enjoys. Laird finally opens up to Janet, and she becomes infatuated with him and their conversations. She changes her schedule, altering her routine to follow Laird’s so she can be there to talk with him. She aches for him so much she describes herself as, “behaving like a girl with a crush.” Janet had years earlier resigned herself to the fact Martin was not the lover she had hoped for. After reconnecting with Laird, she realizes he is the love of her life, not a romantic or sexual love, but a true longing to be cherished, cared for, and to receive the same in return. Laird is actually interested in what she likes. He asks her about her favorite authors and what she wanted to be when she grew up. They develop a bond with almost flirtatious conversation neither of them have had before. Their relationship becomes healing to them both. Janet is accepting of Laird’s death. She is comforted by finally being able to love and be loved, to actually have a fulfilling connection with someone. In the same way, Laird is loved and comforted as he is dying. He does not die alone, but peacefully, as he listens to the sound of his mother’s voice. Janet, by reconnecting with Laird, is able to accept his death without regret.
“In The Gloaming” by Alice Elliott Dark focuses on the relationships of Laird, Janet, and Martin in the twilight of Laird’s life. It is both a happy and a sad ending. Laird’s passing with his mother by his side is peaceful. They reconnected, discovered their love for each other, and are prepared and accepting of his death. Laird’s death for Martin, however, is tragic and filled with regret. The story does not focus on Laird, his homosexuality, or even his illness and death, but on the contrasting relationships between himself and his parents. The relationships they forge determine how they cope with Laird’s death. “In The Gloaming” shows the importance of the relationship between parents and their children.