The following is a relatively raw snippet from my upcoming book “Junk Punch.”
For this, there is no training in either school or from the a posteriori position that enables one to say with conviction that they’re ready to be crippled in this way. For me, the experience was quite like this. The naivete that consumed my life while my mom was alive was not only a luxury I could no longer afford, but within it was nothing ever found about not just the outside world but how to recover the security that had been lost. Very quickly, however, certain things become manifestly clear about your new life.
First is that you’re obviously minus a parent. As startling as that may be in and of itself, I’ve already established that it alone is mostly insignificant. The only thing that rears its ugly head here is the realization that tomorrow, when you wake up, that person won’t be there. This isn’t unlike seeing them off for an extended leave, although I must confess that this epiphany may have resulted from the drawn-out winnowing process instead of making itself clear from the start. Regardless of how level headed one thinks they are in crisis situations, an adaptive process is required in some degree introspectively. Even the sharpest of minds will fall dull against this particular foe.
Second is the factor of perspective, to which it would appear that in most cases, but certainly not all, age disparity plays a more than significant role. Unfortunately, informing those fresh to the bereavement process of things like “time heals all wounds” or “you need to seek out closure” are about as meaningful functionally as a fire is to a burn victim. I will spare my full expose on it for the immediate moment and in lieu only say that time quite boorishly does nothing. Even as a function it’s honestly incapable of fulfilling such a task. As for closure, it will only ever work if one is prepared to accept within themselves a sort of multiple personality environment where the you prior to the event is no longer the same you afterward. This is in reality a method of assimilation, to which no one should be subject to professional psychiatric evaluation for. It is a default defensive mechanism and it is a required one. However, true closure is unattainable. No matter how long you wait, how many personas you develop, or how much you reflect and/or write about it, you realize that emotionally you are scarred for life. There is a distinct psychological factor here and I’ll touch on it momentarily.
“As one door closes, yet another opens.” This is true although the price to pay for the key is sometimes a fair bit too high. The sequence of opening and closing doors always occurs within the same hallway. When looking back, one sees reflections of one’s self within the snapshots contained between a set of two closed doors. Thus while you retain the same corporeal form, subject to biology, the evolution of the psyche from one gap to another will always change. Closure, in this way, is quite attainable but it is not the nature of the type that defines that delivered by the platitude. One has to take great care when engaging in the business of toggling doors. It is possible to not close doors at appropriate times or open them either too soon or too late. The caveat here though is that these particular doors can only be toggled by yourself and perspective is the only thing that will help you with navigation.
Third, and finally, is the realization that to some degree, one is faced with the Aristotelian concept of a tabula rasa. This may not be of effect on those who have reached sufficient age or who’s parents have lived to an acceptable age where the termination of life is, in a way, expected. Going back to the door analogy for one last moment, this phenomenon can be seen when one is ill equipped to open a door and does so prematurely or, in the relevant case, has the door blown open and is sucked in with the back draft. When an artist obtains an easel, they do in fact have some notion to what they intend to paint onto it. When a writer obtains a set of empty pages, they too have some concept of the words they wish to place down. In each of these examples, the person has some prior planning as to what exactly they’re going to do with their own blank slates. This goes back again to the preparatory stages mentioned before. Here is where having a lack of planning starts to reveal itself. A tabula rasa carries with it tremendous possibilities. However, it’s just as easy to discard it as it is to sit, paralyzed, and stare at it wondering who will make the first move between the two of you. This, dear reader, is what I found I was left with. A destroyed past and a blank slate for the future with absolutely no plan on what the hell to do with it.
Here I feel I must digress for a moment for if you have followed me so far then there must be an obvious logical gap. The training provided in one’s formative years, while not preparing one for the degree of emotional distress in a parental death, can indeed provide one with the tools to build upon said tabula rasa. There are still two unresolved issues here. First that the training is subjective to the society. Unless one is capable of refactoring their skills to a form as generic as possible, it is of no use to them elsewhere. This proves to be a problem when, spurred by ill-managed insurmountable grief, one becomes aimlessly migratory, in search of that special something. The second ties back to the emotional aspect. What the training cannot do is to functionally compel you to, in essence, begin the rebuilding effort. With the examples provided, it cannot make the artist paint or the writer write. The push against paralysis, induced by fear, is harder to accomplish than most realize.
This then leads to our next topic. If I had been so clearly emotionally destroyed, left with no direction whatsoever, had both my innocence and security taken away from me, been robbed of not just my mother but the life I had before and the future that included her, how in the hell did I manage to force myself to start figuring out how to create my own security?
Let’s start with the obvious matter which is to say that none of this, the things that have been discussed so far, was evident to me at the time. My philosophy and total understanding of the matter were quite absent from my mind. That is to say that there was no conscious effort toward rebuilding security at all. Everything that was done was done so in a shooting from the hip style; although that itself is not entirely accurate, it will suffice for now.
The reason for bringing this to light is because it’s an incredibly fair point, in fact one that I can attest to personally, to assert that in a case like this, one needs a little help regaining perspective. As I mentioned before, perspective is the key to both mitigation and forward momentum. Looking to the day she had died in the hospital, there were a great many things that could have been pivotal in facilitating the direction of the perspective. I will spare you the details but give instead those things that are distinct in this regard.
There was the palpable solemn chaos that was evident in all the persons present for my mom’s final diagnoses. It’s strange to think back now that even though we all shared the same orienting event/person, it wouldn’t be disingenuous to assert that there were still tangible degrees of separation between us. I can’t be quite sure if this was a result of the matter at hand, still very fresh, or if it were stemming from deep-rooted matters from years prior. Animosity, something to which no family is immune to, courses rather deeply in the veins of mine. With no time ever being the wrong time, now would have been as good as any to bring up, well, anything. I don’t recall anyone scratching the wounds open overtly, to which I’d like to credit common decency, but the idea that the chance was there wasn’t lost to me; death impacts us all in incredibly strange ways.
This feeling carried into the meeting room, where we had been handed the doctor’s assessment, something which I feel still is an area of opportunity for them. No one questioned the ability of his art, but the caveat during his here’s what we did speech, that being had we found her sooner she might have had a chance, left a bitter taste in my mouth. I can’t pretend to understand what went through my sibling’s minds. The moment of realization came when, standing in front of her bed, the overpowering stench of death singed my nostrils. This token of finality, the biological reminder of your natural shackles, leaves in its wake nothing pleasant; not to the scent but also not to the sight either.
Society is never too far behind, even in bereavement. For nearly immediately after the proclamation of death was announced, I was to be sequestered in a private room joined by the coroner, a requirement in drug-related deaths, and a representative from some organization whose name has been lost to me. She was there to take care of some matters regarding my mother’s compliance to be an organ donor. A task for which there were to be no spoils for her on account of the severe damage done to the organs from not just the drugs but also from the charcoal that had been pumped into her system in an effort to mitigate the cause. My consolation prize from her was a Memory Box. Inside was a heavy metal emblem that would have been seated inside her tombstone had she received one.
So there it was. The adjacent room contained the corpse of my mother and we were to sully on home with an organ donors tombstone headdress. Delivery of this verdict to my grandmother, who awaited at home for the return of her daughter and instead received a box made of recyclable material, was an education of a kind. All of this framed for me the very real aspect of life called fragility. It was in this, however, that I was able to find my perspective.
The following days were beyond trying as the world I’d been accustomed to rapidly deteriorated. It felt as if everything and everyone were on the brink and the outcomes, now in the future being evidently predictable, were so volatile then that each morning I made a cursory glance on the two remaining occupants just as a sanity check. But I always passed on that room.
I don’t recall in lucid detail how it transpired since it was a blur for most of it, but my youngest sister eventually did leave the house; it was to be a few years before I was to see her again. My grandmother and I held out on our own as best as we could, but her health condition coupled with my inability to find work at the time resulted in her departure as well. Before too long, it was just myself left there. Well, my pet parakeet and I to be exact. In a few short weeks, everything was entirely gone. All that remained was an empty shell of a house where not too long ago, there were four people commencing otherwise normal lives. To see the phantoms of this past seep from the pores of the walls was nauseating and I never was able to reconcile this to a degree of comfort.
One day before I left for Columbus, I mustered the courage to enter that room – the one I’d avoided. The one I’d hid from. The one I couldn’t even look at the doorknob comfortably for having invoked this ridiculously irrational fear of seeing it rotate with no hand guiding it. Standing in front of it, I inhaled deeply, more so than I’m sure Michael Phelps ever did, clasped and rotated the knob, and thrust myself inward. I know for sure I choked on the air. That door had been shut since the vultures of materialism had swooped down to descend upon the now master-less bounty that was just ripe for the picking. What was left was exactly the way it was the night she died – a Time Capsule. The dresser, bed, television, and night stand sat and waited, yearning to be used yet again. It was well beyond my grasp, or even the will of my person, to think of doing such a thing at the time. Collapsing instead on the floor against the wall, it was all I could do to take in the atmosphere around me. I didn’t emote, even as I felt all of the emotion rushing back into me. The memories of that night, the culmination of the weeks leading up to the departure I made at the very end, all rushed forth into my throat. That pinging feeling of having to swallow that ball back down was far more difficult that it needed to be.
In a way, this was a second form of finality. I imagined it being much like a photographer, who having been at once overcome by the landscape before them, captured the moment and from it created a postcard of profound beauty. This photograph, the last one I took of this time, has been locked within me ever since and to this day I can recall it vividly ad arbitrium. If one were looking to say that I’d found some kind of closure, this would perhaps be the most appropriate time to say that maybe I did. The settling of emotions pressed down within me to form the foundation for what I’d later understand as the start of the assimilation process. With one final glimpse and an incredibly deep breath, I rose from the floor and walked out the door, never to look back.