29 October 2011

and everybody dies.

I recall being about seven-years-old, lying sick on the couch, longing for the tender touch of my loving mother to help ease the discomfort of my currently congested and febrile state, when she entered the room, and sat next to me.

“Yes,” I thought, “she’s going to baby me, comfort me!”
She sat next to my small, sickly frame, looked at me oh so lovingly and said, “You know everybody dies right?”
What!?!?!? What was she saying to me? What were these words? Was I dying? I thought it was just a cold. An excuse to stay home from school, eat soup, watch cartoons and be babied. What was this she was talking about? Death? I didn’t even like the sound of the word!
My look of uncertainty about and fear of the topic must have been mistaken for a look of, “ooh, tell me more…” for she continued.
She expressed again, that everybody I loved would die someday, and that once they did, I would not be able to see them any longer. I recall asking her how long it would be until I could “see” them again--bad idea. 

Instead of realizing that she needed to dumb this down a little, word it in such a way as to not arouse a sense of terror in her youngest child, she proceeded with her lesson in as frank a manner as she started.
She further explained to sick, seven and now scared me that when people die, they are gone for good. Reiterated that once everyone I love (her, my father, my grandmothers, my brother) dies, I will never be able to see them, talk with them, nor hug them again; NEVER! Oh, and she didn’t stop there! She made certain that I understood my own mortality. She in no way allowed me to have the false belief that I was immune to this thing, this fate she termed “death.” I was made to understand that I too, like everybody I knew, and would someday know, would cease to be, would cease to love and be loved.
I forgot that I was sick, that I was home from school, lying around, watching cartoons. I only knew that while others were laughing with peers, and playing at recess, my world was crashing down around me. I didn’t want to be sick. I didn’t want to be having this conversation with my mother. I didn’t want to be laying there, my eyes wide, pupils dilated with fear.
Weak from illness, and feeling trapped by my mother’s presence, I mustered the courage to ask her "when". When would my everybody, my family, my world die. When!?!?
Without forethought (again), she informed me that she couldn’t tell me. That nobody knew for certain when their life would be over. That it could happen tonight, tomorrow, next year, or even seventy years from now. That uncertainty was why I needed to know about it right then, why she wanted to prepare me for the loss of my loved ones at such a young age. She wanted to be certain that I understood this so I “wouldn’t be surprised or sad when it happened.” Her father, whom died when she was sixteen, prepared her for his death, and instructed her not to be sad, nor to cry when it happened; she wanted to do the same for me, and expected the same from me that he did her.
Boldly telling your child, ill at the time, and only seven, that everyone in the world, everyone in their egocentric little world, including them, would die someday doesn’t seem like a good way to prepare them for life’s atrocities! Springing this on someone so young—nothing good could possibly come of it, nothing.
I voiced my understanding of life, more so of death, with the hope of bringing it to an end more quickly. I figured the more questions I asked, the more confused I looked, the longer she’d torture me with her words, with her facts of life!
It worked, she stopped talking. I promised her, as she requested I do, that I wouldn’t cry when she died. She leaned in, kissed my forehead, and wandered into the kitchen to make me soup. Tomato soup, which I hated. 
To her it was no big deal; it was as if nothing had happened, nothing significant. For me? Ha! It was the beginning of “the end”…for everyone I loved.
That night, and nearly every night after for the next year or two, I would fall asleep thinking of a loved one dying. I would lie there nightly imagining the death of a certain loved one, and cry. I would be sobbing, face first into my pillow, or stuffed animal of the week, snot running everywhere. I would imagine the death of one person at a time. Each night I would cry less and less for this person, and when I couldn’t cry for them anymore, I’d move on—it was someone else’s turn to die.
Within a year or two, I felt confident in my ability to deal with the deaths of everyone I knew in a “mature” and “adult” manner. I was certain that I would be able to keep my promise to my mother, that I wouldn’t cry for the loss of her. In addition I made certain that I wouldn’t cry for anybody. I told myself that I’d be strong and well prepared for the death of everybody I love; I believed it—until the fall of 2009.

1 comment:

  1. I can't even imagine how these memories must be effecting you today. I know saying I'm sorry you went through this will do nothing for you physically or emotionally, but I am truly sorry. I wish there were more comforting things to say other than that. Thanks again for sharing. Your truth amazes me.