Tag Archives: mourning

My Advice To You, Old Thing

beautiful brother

My advice to you, old thing, is to never stop digging for Roman coins and arrowheads in the fallow fields. Never stop chasing butterflies or running from bees under the hot gold light of late afternoon. Never stop calling the Jerusalem crickets up from the center of the earth or we all might get too comfortable and cease to peddle the earth round in its necessary orbit. Never stop mapping the stars with your amateur telescope or we might all fall from the sky like deflated polyester clowns.

My advice to you, old thing, is to float your goddamn boat among the crowded crocodile waters without flinching or waving, like you’ve always done, hiding in the obvious infested waters until the cavalcade of teeth has gnashed itself so thin you can swim in your smooth fragile skin without a scratch to the island with the best coconuts. To the island of drums and gongs with no repercussions. To the island where your pale skin never burns and the sands always catch your bones in soft protective squalls.

My advice to you, old thing, is to play the whole song out to the bitter end. This is the place where golf balls disappear into the ether, the place we want to look but can’t even reach with flesh and bone because it’s two inches past the living. This is the place where Barbie dolls are abandoned for sick crowns of dense brush pocked with burrs that will bite into our skulls so hard we’d trade our souls to escape the pain. But those who hold fast, who play out the whole song to the bitter end, they’re the ones who reap the truth, the ones who will get to sleep the good sleep.

My advice to you, old thing, is to let your shackles crumble down around your spirit, let go, let it all fucking go now and don’t carry anything with you to your new life. You’ve watched attics burst into flame, you’ve felt citadels of trust crush down into layers of pain so bad you couldn’t speak of it again but in dissected parts. You invested in the silence like you invested in other people’s hopes and dreams. The truth kept coming, kept coloring your walls, your film, your canvas, your wheels. Let it all go now, let it all drift off like rain evaporating in the hot dry valley of death.

My advice to you, old thing, is to know the worth of your bones to those who are still living. The weight of them in our arms is heavier than the whole of the earth without you in it.

How’s That Grief Coming Along?

Mom Zeke and Tara in Portland

While I was in Los Angeles with my mom, sister, and Ezekiel’s roommate and best friend, his being dead was surreal and visceral. I knew it was real because we were going through his things and everyone around me kept crying (myself included a few times) and we had to arrange for his cremation. After four days of intense shock and grief I was ready to come home and not think about my brother’s death every waking moment of the day. So I watched every youtube episode of the Great British Bake Off I could find (WHY THE FUCK CAN’T I FIND EPISODE 4 OF SEASON 4?!) and re-watched nearly every episode of Poirot ever made (EXCEPT THE LAST ONE WHICH SUCKS). My sister went home. Life kind of returned to sort-of normal-ish.

I started feeling like maybe it was all a dreadful nightmare and my brother might drop by at any time toting some chardonnay or cheap beer since we can’t be trusted to have such things on hand. I didn’t see him that often anyway, so it’s not unusual that he’s gone. So how can it be much different than him being gone now?

To keep things more real my brain launched itself into an obsessive thought mode. It sounds like this in my head:

Remember when my brother wasn’t dead? My brother’s dead. My brother’s dead. My brother’s dead. My brother’s dead. I liked it better when my brother wasn’t dead. My brother’s dead. I will never see my brother again. My brother’s dead. (On seeing someone pass by my house I resist the urge to shout “Hey, my brother’s dead!”) Zeke’s dead. (Philip walks into the room and I say “remember when Zeke wasn’t dead?” He remembers.) My brother’s dead. My brother’s dead. My brother’s dead. (Resists urge to post this all over social media because everyone already knows my brother is dead and it’s a bummer to be reminded again and again of someone’s recent loss and also – it makes you look like you might not be handling it well) I’ll never see Zeke again. My brother’s dead. My brother’s dead. My brother will still be dead tomorrow. My brother’s dead. My brother’s dead. Etc…

So it dawns on me that maybe part of me doesn’t totally accept that he’s dead and my brain is there to make sure I remember it and swallow it and deal with it every waking minute of the day.

Self-inflicted lobotomies aren’t recommended.

I can’t seem to stop my brain from saying obvious stupid shit like “All of my life up until now, Zeke wasn’t dead”

The problem with saying something a million times is that at first you may be pounding a truth home into your psyche, but eventually words repeated too many times in succession lose meaning. (Say baboon really fast 20 times in a row and tell me if it doesn’t start to sound extra weird and meaningless)

At least we didn’t find any porn among his things or on his computer.

But really, death is something that happens to millions of people every single day. It’s the only thing more inevitable than birth. You might not be born, but if you’re born, you WILL die. The blessing for me is that I’m not tortured by the concept of heaven or hell or reincarnation or the belief that there’s a reason we’re born and a reason we die and that somehow our death is connected to the quality of our virtue. I don’t have to sit around worrying about the state of Ezekiel’s soul. The state of his soul was never anyone’s business but his own.

The fact that millions of people die every day means that millions of people are grieving every single day, same as I am right now. That’s kind of awe-inspiring. This grieving experience is something most of us who are living will share in common at some point.

Being born into this world comes with a tremendous amount of baggage. And once you’re in it, there’s only one way off the planet, death.

I find these thoughts soothing to some degree. Death is what it is. So if it starts feeling normal that my brother’s dead and I will never see him again, it’s just because it IS normal. It doesn’t mean he’ll ever be forgotten or that his time here wasn’t remarkable (because it was). It will just mean that I’ve accepted what is incontrovertible and have decided to mentally and emotionally move forward through the grieving process.

Use Honest Language to Talk About Death

I don’t approve of this current anti-death culture where everyone treats death as though it was some horrible event that’s never meant to happen to any of us.  People have forgotten how to respect death, to acknowledge its rightful place in our lives as the natural other half of life.  No one gets to live without dying.  No one who’s died has been denied the chance to live, even if only for a minute.  They come together.  You can’t have one without the other.  Life and death are part of one whole experience.

I’d like to address how we all talk about death when it happens to someone in our lives or in our circles.  No one is ever expected to repress their feelings of sorrow, surprise, shock, or to not fall apart.  We all react differently to the news that someone we know has died and I’m not trying to take away honest feelings.  However, I would like to suggest that the language we use to discuss these feelings be one without denial, without inanity, without false balm.

The basic fact is that there’s no such thing as a time that someone is “supposed” to go.  All of us would like the people we love to never die but they will.  Most of us don’t want to die ourselves, but we will.  Let’s agree that most of us are hoping for the most amount of time to live possible.  We are hoping we will live to be pissy old men and women who see everyone else they know die and finally, when there’s nothing left to do, we pass peacefully into death in our sleep.  Hoping is one thing, expectation is another.

No one has a right to expect to live to be old nor does anyone have a right to expect their loved ones to live to be old.  That is our hope, but it is not based on any rights or any facts or any promises the universe or God has made to anyone, because, of course, no such promises have ever been made to a living soul.

So when you lose someone it’s using a language of denial to say “It wasn’t her time” or “He died too soon” or “They weren’t supposed to go like that”

There is no “supposed to” and no “too soon” because none of us are in control of these things.  We all go exactly when we are meant to go.  We all go when the time is right or we wouldn’t go.  There are no accidental deaths where god “oops!” took someone by mistake.  I don’t believe in God but I’ve heard a lot of people who do say things like “Susie was taken before it was her time” and it strikes me as grossly sacrilegious that anyone accuse God of making mistakes.

What I’d like to see more people do is use more direct and truthful statements about how they’re feeling.  Instead of saying “Susie wasn’t supposed to die this young” (not factual or remotely true, since she obviously died ‘this young’) how about saying “I’m devastated Susie died so young!” (true) or “It’s so sad she didn’t get to live longer” (presumably true) or “I’m so fucking angry that Susie is dead and I was never going to be ready to lose her!!” (probably most true of all is anger at losing someone you liked).

No one is ever ready to lose the people they love.  That’s the bottom line.  That’s what most of us are feeling.  So let’s put more truth and strength and acceptance of our feelings in our language about death and erase the inane platitudes that don’t really make anyone I know feel better.  There is so much more power in saying what you really mean.

There is an urge in humans to distance themselves from death.  We do it in our language before we do it anywhere else.  I hear people say things like “I don’t know how to make sense of his death” and I want to shout out  that you don’t have to “make sense” of it.  It isn’t confusing.  It’s just personally painful.  I think dealing with loss would be much easier if we all stopped trying to make death mysterious and understand why it has to happen.  Do people really not get it?  Or is it that they just don’t want to express death in personal terms like saying “Death sucks!” or “I’m angry that people have to die!” which is very honest and most of us could relate and agree with those sentiments.

Death just is.  It is as much a fabric of all of our lives as births are.  It’s generally one of the least comfortable parts of life but it’s necessary.  Why?  Cause people insist on having tons of babies and if none of us ever died this planet would have been overcrowded to mass starvation point before Christ ever came along.  It’s that simple.  People die because if they never died they couldn’t keep being born.  You like birth, right?  You all feel warm and fuzzy when life is ejected from wombs but that cute and fuzzy event comes with a price.  Someone must die for the new life to thrive.  We all have our turns.  Some of us get a few seconds on earth.  Some of us get over a hundred years.  The fact remains- every single birth is also an eventual death.  When I hear of babies being born I already understand that the baby caries a burden of death into the world with them.

In summary:

Instead of saying the inane useless crap like “Henry died too young” let’s all be more truthful and say what we’re really feeling which is “I feel slugged with sorrow that Henry’s dead because I’m going to miss the hell out of him” and then we can proceed right on with the natural stages of grief and in being more directly honest about what’s happened and how we feel about it I think we do more honor to the person who’s died.  We get right to talking about what we’ll miss and what we loved about them.  Let’s start creating a culture of acceptance and honesty and respect around death.  This doesn’t diminish the sorrow and pain we all feel, in fact, it brings us straight to the heart of our devastation and that’s where we are able to actually honor both ourselves and the dead.

As a last note:

I am definitely hoping to live long enough to get my book published and to see my son become a well adjusted adult member of society.  I am hoping for more time than just today, however, if I die today I will be a fiercely angry ghost if anyone who knows me DARES to suggest I died too soon or that I wasn’t meant to go that way or anything patently stupid.  I promise that if I can figure out how to do it, I will haunt your ass until you stop talking in such useless shabby platitudes and just accept that this was always going to happen whenever it was supposed to and please watch over Max and get my books published posthumously.

Other topics I wish to discuss about death, dying, and mourning:

How to mourn: different methods to suit every taste.

How to eulogize without telling lies about dead people.