Friday, January 06, 2006

Death seems to be all around.

People’s loved ones are dying, are leaving this world, and it seems like nobody knows what to do about it. I sure as hell don’t. I keep telling people that we are all amateurs when it comes to grief – we’re just making it up as we go along. I think there’s some truth to that.

I have neglected to tell people about my mom, not because I don’t like them, or feel uncomfortable telling them, but just because it hasn’t been the right time. These feelings are precious, and the situations that bring them about (i.e. a parent dying) are so sensitive and raw that they must come in their own time. I’m not going to bring her up out of the blue. She sits inside me, taking on the image of my own psyche, and I struggle every day to fully understand how she affects me. And maybe I never will.

In this society, I believe – as my roommate Ben pointed out – that we are not equipped to handle death. We are told we will live forever, and we are constantly coming up with different ways to convince ourselves of that fact. But when it finally happens, what do we do? It reminds me of the scenario in Brave New World, when the kids freak out when they see an old person. “You mean they actually exist??”

And then there are the loved ones left behind, and don’t even get me started on what to do with them. We find it hard, it seems, to know what to do or say to someone who is traveling along this dark path. I’m no expert, but I’m sure that – for me – there is absolutely nothing anyone can say to change either my mom’s condition or how I feel about it. But I do want people alongside me. People who care for me and are willing to walk next to me, if only for a short while. It’s difficult to answer the stock question, “How’s your mom?” Part of me wants to scream, “SHE HAS ALZHEIMER’S. HOW DO YOU THINK SHE’S DOING???” Yet I know this person asked it out of kindness, and probably is wondering how I am doing just as much as my mom by asking that question.

But this is what death does to you, it seems. It drags you around by your neck and never lets up. It brings up your worst memories and taunts you from the other side of the lake.

Death, though, can also highlight and bring about soft spots in the middle of this raging storm. It seems akin to sleeping through a freezing night, and finding that one part of the blanket or pillow that’s warm from a part of you sleeping on it for so long. You find it in the clumsy dark and instantly connect with it, not wanting to let it go. Then you quietly fall back asleep again.

Does any of this make sense? Because if it doesn’t, it’s probably right on. I know I’m preaching to the choir – more than likely not one of you has gone through your life without experiencing death. But it is different for every person.

I think a helpful metaphor comes from Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events:

“Losing a loved one is like climbing a flight of stairs late at night, and thinking there is one more stair than there actually is. Your foot goes for that stair, and then there is a numb feeling as it falls through the air, into nothing, before it finally hits the floor with a sickening thud.”

May we all find peace in those situations that seem completely void of it.


At 5:07 PM , Blogger coreyleigh said...

"But this is what death does to you, it seems. It drags you around by your neck and never lets up. It brings up your worst memories and taunts you from the other side of the lake."

You have no idea how true this is. After my father died, and in fact to this day, I have had trouble remembering something good, finding a good memory about my father. I try to console myself by telling myself that it will come in time. I just hope that it does; I want to be able to tell people something positive when they ask "what was your father like." I also take comfort that there are many people who have good memories of my father.

It is hard to watch a parent slip away over the years; in that sense I can completely understand why you want to react the way you do when people ask how your mom is. I lost my father a little bit more every year for 7 years, although to something completely different than what is affecting your mother.

I completely agree with the fact that we do not know how to deal with death. I think that even when you expect and know it is coming, there is still no easy way to handle death. It takes time, and in some cases, it never is handled. Your quote is perfect. Numb is absolutely the correct word for it.

At 7:47 PM , Anonymous Katie said...

Two things and my brain is still trying to decide which thing to put first...

A minorly non-traditional anthropology book I read for a class said that, when we experience the death of someone close to us, we become members of the "invisible community of the bereaved." Truer words were never spoken.

In response to the answers to the stock question: The weekend my father died - and after that but mostly that weekend - I wanted to punch a ridiculous number of people in the face for their stupid comments and responses. Mike and Kelin can tell you all about it. My favorite though: Later in the morning or early in the afternoon on the day he died, the vice president of the Texas District came by to visit with his wife - he'd been a long standing friend of the family and the circuit counselor was indisposed or something. As we sat down to have a small devotion with him, his wife noticed me dabbing at my eyes and nose and turned and asked me "Do you have allergies, dear?" I wanted to respond, "No, bitch, I just watched my father die." Wiser than that, however, I didn't answer her.

At 7:52 PM , Anonymous Katie said...

Speaking of stupid people...

Karlyn and I have a long standing thing. If significant happens in the other's life that would ordinarily warrant comments of sympathy, we basically perfuntorially mention "There's no reason you should want to talk to me but if you do you know where to find me." We each know the other one gets it. And support is there without necessarily having to feel 'broken' which we all know gets old quick.

At 12:53 AM , Anonymous Luke said...

Big Hug. That's it.


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