“POP! Mark Polanzak’s father exploded. A puff of smoke.”
Those are the opening lines to Mark Polanzak’s book, POP!, which is often found in the self-help or parenting section of a bookstore.
Yet, the book is a memoir—well, a fictional and fabulist memoir. So, is it really a memoir? What is this book?
POP! is a coping mechanism for not only Polanzak, but for anyone trying to overcome grief or grave loss.
When Polanzak was 17 years old, his father allegedly combusted while playing in one of his weekly tennis matches. There was a pop, a puff of smoke, and his father was gone. It is also completely possible that his father actually died of a heart attack, but Polanzak’s humor redefines the traditional grieving narrative.
He proves that grieving is not an exact step-by-step process that works for everyone, but rather a process unique to everyone. He makes it clear that using humor to lighten a difficult situation is a way to overcome the issue as long as you do not completely disregard reality.
While much of Polanzak’s book recounts somewhat fictional encounters before and after his father’s death, the nonfictional plot discusses the week leading up to Polanzak being a guest speaker for a children’s bereavement group and his struggle to figure out exactly what he should tell these kids.
Polanzak visited Providence College’s campus on April 25 to give a reading of his book to the Development of Western Civilization Colloquium class, “Me, Myself, and I,” which spends the semester examining how various authors choose to present themselves in autobiographies. After reading various amusing yet serious chapters, Polanzak took some time to answer any questions and explain his writing process.
When asked whether this entire experience was mentally draining for him, Polanzak answered, “It was a therapy for me…I hadn’t admitted this [stuff] before, and it was thrilling.”
Polanzak also explained that he and his family never sat down and talked about their emotions in the time following their father’s death.
“We, as a family, had to talk about this stuff… My mom didn’t know I was thinking about this stuff,” explained Polanzak. His mother and brother finally got a sense of what he was going through emotionally after he asked them to read one of the first drafts of POP!. Even though he compiled the book several years after his father’s death, this book allowed him to express his grief in way that made him feel comfortable.
This idea is crucial to the grieving process, and parallels May’s Mental Health Month theme: #CureStigma.
One in five Americans are affected by mental health conditions, and stigmas can be toxic to them. Stigmas create environments filled with shame, fear, and silence which can prevent people from reaching out and seeking help.
While Polanzak may have felt some of these stigmas following his father’s death, his book ultimately helped him break through some of these pressures and—quite literally—put his thoughts and feelings down on paper. He started to #Cure[his]Stigma through POP!.
Whether it is through words, art, or any other form of expression, it is important to be like Polanzak and express how you are feeling in the way that makes you most comfortable. We must #CureStigma and create environments where everyone feels welcome to express themselves and how they feel.
Grieving is a complicated process unique to everyone. While we cannot force people to express their emotions how and when we want them to, we must encourage them to take their time and do what is best for them. Whether this is giving them the time and space they need, letting them make light-hearted jokes about a grave situation, or being someone they can talk to, we must create welcoming environments and #CureStigma.
Not everyone’s father mysteriously combusts while playing tennis, but everyone has their own way of dealing with confusing, depressing, and unforeseen situations.
The Personal Counseling Center is always there to help and is located in lower Bedford Hall Monday through Fridays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Call 401-865-2343 to make an appointment, or if you have an on-campus emergency after hours, call the Department of Public Safety at 401-865-2222.