I hate writing about death. I hate it because when I write, it means that it has touched my world. Yesterday, it did in a big way . . . I lost my mother, Treva. It is still surreal although she was 95 and in the typical failing health of a 95-year-old. Death, except in a place of war, never comes at a time of one’s wishing. In war it is only the wishing that the other, the non-humans on the other side, would die by your desire.
I’ve already started to hear the mindless chatter, “She’s in a better place.” “God did this for a reason.” “She is with all the (now dead) people she loved.” Even if that were true, and I’m not sure it is more than wishful thinking, it does not matter to me. It hurts like hell that our time on this earth is over, period.
I have been told many times to never write or say anything while you are in the emotional wake of a personal event. Death is one. Your lover leaving you, your dog dying, or your job loss are others. A positive one, is the birth of a child. The fear about speaking in that state, is that you will later regret what you say. You know, once you have regained your senses you will be embarrassed. This is why I think Twitter is so dangerous (as we all now know).
But sometimes, I think in the aura of something emotionally powerful, even a powerful negative event, is when we see reality with the most lucidity. It is when the layers of façade that we live under in the nominal life, is suddenly washed away leaving a vivid clarity. The process of regaining your senses is where you allow the dust to settle back in, making the mirror opaque once more. So, I write in that place when the emotions are real, where the dust has been blown away as by a storm. I will not write about my mom, which I could write volumes. I write to embrace the grief, in a narcissistic way, somewhat like Lewis’ A Grief Observed.
I must embrace this grief, with more intention than before. In a very strange set of events, I’ve been denied the opportunity to be part of my own mother’s funeral. I don’t mean I won’t have a role, I mean I won’t even be there at all. It is complicated, but my daughter is getting married at my house on Sunday. It has been planned for a long time and cannot be changed. I had asked my siblings to wait until I could get there on Monday (they live 3,000 miles away). They would not wait and are having the funeral in my absence. I never thought this could happen. But I can’t miss my daughter’s wedding. I guess they figured I could miss my mother’s funeral. No one should be forced to make this choice. It is like a Sophie’s paradox. At this point in my emotions, my siblings have cast on me an unforgivable betrayal. I now sense that I have lost my entire birth family and can’t imagine ever having contact with them again. That’s how I feel in this moment.
So, I fear that my grief will not be complete. I will not see mom in the open casket. I was not there when she drew her last breath. I hate distance. I hate time. Screw them both! It has robbed me of so much. Yes, they both have given me much as well.
I had a close friend whose father blew his brains outs with a double barrel when she was 15. Death is dark, but some deaths are a darker dark, if that were possible. It changed the course of her life. If there is anything positive to say about that experience, and there really isn’t, it is that when you are young and someone close dies of an unexpectant tragedy, it feels as if the world as you know it, collapses around your pain. And it should. Everything to the horizon is consumed within the storm of your agony, you friends, your family, your distant family, acquaintances, and even complete strangers. That gives some comfort, but of course not enough. We all come into this world as rock stars and that place of honor slowly dissipates with age. The real rock stars are able to delay the decline for a few decades at best. Just ask Antony Bourdain.
The hard thing about being 62 and having a mother die of natural causes at age 95, is that the world does not collapse around you. As a mater of fact, there isn’t even a semi-transparent shock wave that penetrates the very proximal world. That is the essence of my feelings at this time and in this situation. No one knows how wonder she was. No one knows her story. No one here feels the loss.
My mother died 3,000 miles away. I wasn’t there. No one here in my town knew her. Her grand kids, my kids, barely knew her. This loss, while it is overwhelming for me, doesn’t seem to show up on their radar. It is an enigma. Someone who I love and knew deeply, is lost and others, in my present world, whom I love and know deeply, don’t notice. I feel that I’m in a diving bell at the bottom of the sea where carbon monoxide is being accidentally pumped from the surface into my bell and I am suffocating, yet the fish around me, don’t know the first thing about air or gases, either good or bad. They swim by not knowing or understanding.
I had a similar experience twenty-five years ago when my father died. In that case, I did attend the funeral. However, my family, wife and kids, chose not to accompany me on the 1500-mile trek due to cost. At least in that setting, I flew into a world of salty rain, where the drops were tears. We, my birth family, were all bathed in them. Then after a week of co-dependent bereavement, I boarded a silver plane due north and landed, once again, in an intimate world where the sun was shining without blemish, and the grief was unnoticed. Four hours earlier I was in a place of hugs and tears and arrived in a place where the most applicable topic was lawn mowing and which kid hit the other first.
This time, for the sake of my daughter’s wedding and the joy of that aura, I must find a way to grieve alone, which feels like trying to contain the force of a nuclear explosion within a suitcase. It is hard to zip up and to close. I want to hike up into the mountains, to an unnamed valley, one devoid of paths, to scream and sob without restraint. But I cannot. Life does not bid me the time.
In some ways, but not many, this expected loss may be harder than the unexpected. There is something even darker about a nominal death. When I hear someone say that someone died, the most common question is, “How old were they?” I do the same. But it is like the nominal dying has no penalty and carries no expected remorse. Wasn’t my mother’s quality of life much worse over the past few years? Absolutely. But does that validate death? It is that expectation, which makes it darker. It is the loss of a world that cares about the loss that makes it darker. Please stop telling me it isn’t so bad! It is, damit! It is!
Is it worse to lose someone you have only known and loved for 15 years verses someone who have known and loved for 62? Is it worse to lose someone from an unexpected, violent death than losing someone whose life has been slowly tortured away over years until the worst is then expected? The only assumption I can make is that all death is darker and darker still. It is the tragic places that makes me feel stronger in God being there. Not that I can feel him more in grief. I can’t and I don’t pretend to. Not that I seek him out more, I’m not. But the darkness is so dark, and getting darker still, that the nihilism of atheism becomes more senseless, still.