Can we talk about mourning for a bit? (I know, totally out of left field.)
I think there are about 3 different levels of mourning. For instance, I found out yesterday they moved the Georgia Red Clay Writer's Conference not only to October 18 due to lack of participation, but also to Kennesaw, Georgia (which is NOTHING like Savannah) (I'm getting a lot of flak for saying that out loud, but there it is. I heart you, Kennesaw! You're great! But you are not Savannah, I am sorry).
So I've had to cancel my writer's conference; I have a conflict on the 18th and can't go. (Could the conflict be that the conference is no longer in Savannah? Possibly.) At any rate, I sat mourning for a good rest of the evening when I found out. And I'd call that a low-level, level 1 kind of mourn. Losing an object, forgetting your coffee on a particularly grumpy morning, realizing you forgot to get more shampoo and you didn't even shampoo the day before, that $50 pencil sharpener you decided not to get the warranty on that now has a red crayon stuck in it and dammit that's like the 3rd one in a row, or you're on your way to bed and remember you have papers to grade in the back of your car and they've been there all weekend and now your Monday's going to be a different kind of hell...all low-level mourning. Take deep breaths; it could be worse. You could be in a bomb shelter in Syria or a human shield child in Gaza.
The second kind of mourning is when you lose a person. Not to death. Just...you know. They're gone. You or they end a friendship for whatever reason. You decide to separate or get a divorce. You lose a job. You leave a job. You get foreclosed on. You stop talking to someone in your family because you can't take the dysfunction anymore. That's a mid-grade mourning. You go on and live your life per normal (or as normal as you can), but it comes in waves every now and then and maybe you have a particularly miserable day or three days in a row once in awhile because you don't know how to fix it. If it's even fixable. You miss them. You have regrets, and you're not sure how to make it right. It's deeply painful when someone you loved or cared about is out there still, you could call them or contact them and try to fix it, but you don't know how to. Or if you even should.
Then there's Level 3 mourning, when you've lost someone you love dearly and will never get them back. That's the thing about Death--it's like a big door slamming shut in your face. You feel like the person is on the other side, but you can't hear or see them. And you think, you hope, they're okay over there but you don't know because you've never gotten to see what's on the other side of that door. It's a special kind of pain that only people who've experienced can ever really understand. Because it's over: you can't hear their voice ever again, you can't just reach out and call them or email them. They're gone. Just...gone.
That kind of mourning is particularly painful to live with, because it doesn't ever go away. It fades, it gets less painful. But it's always with you, forever. It doesn't matter how they leave, either--losing my dad to a sick heart and my friend Vicki to throat cancer taught me that. I didn't get to say good-bye to my dad, and that was terrible. We all had lots of time to say good-bye to Vicki, and that was terrible, too.
The thing about mourns is that people love to say all kinds of bizarre and inappropriate things. I once had a coworker comment on a trench coat of my dad's I was wearing (I wore things of his to feel closer to him; they smelled of him, they'd been his and I no longer had him). She said, "Well, at least you got something decent out of it." when I told her it was my dad's coat. Then she immediately realized how that sounded and apologized profusely, but I knew: she's got death issues (but she also had race issues because one time she announced that racism was over, and I asked her on which planet).
I think people don't know what to say when they find out somebody someone loved has died, possibly because we have such weird attitudes about death. I once went on a ghost hunt with a paranormal expert who let us know you'll rarely have any hauntings by Native American ghosts. When asked why, she said: "Because they understood death as part of a circle, so they weren't weird about it." Which seems about right, because when Vicki was dying my friend C sat at her bedside and asked gently, "Vicki, are you scared?" and Vicki said not at that point. Her son had visited her and when she told him she didn't want to die, he'd said, "Mom, I'm dying, too. We're all dying. You're just doing it a little faster than me." And she knew all she had to do was decide to let go. And eventually, she did.
I bet you're wondering right about now: Amy, what the hell's up with you tonight? Why all the death talk? Because I found out an old college friend of mine died, is the answer. And we weren't in contact anymore, because years (and years and years and years) ago, we ended the friendship and never spoke again. We were both young and dysfunctional, and I can be a bit of a drama queen, over-emotional reactionist. I feel confident when I say I genetically inherited this amazing talent.
No matter. I found this out and it made me mourn that friendship and get very extremely thoughtful about my life, and life in general. And made me remember that one thing I wrote this summer about telling people right away that you love them or care about them and trying to fix breakdowns before it's too late. And I am thinking about how I didn't do that for that relationship. And how bad I can really suck at communicating honestly sometimes. But maybe the Universe just sometimes says: this is how it's meant to be because you need to learn this lesson...again. (How many pop quizzes do We have to give you, Amy, before you pass one??)
Can I be really real and my totally weird self with you real quick before I sign off? I lived in Arizona for 3 years (and never saw the Grand Canyon). I had weird experiences out there, in Arizona. I've often wondered if it's one of those ley line crossing places--you know, a spot on the planet some aliens buried their hidden treasure of whatever or the Universe is storing Its secret stash of outer space hallucinatory star dust. So anyway, this is where I was when I found out my dad was dying of congestive heart failure. My mom called me, and made it sound like he'd die in about a week (seriously, Mom?? Seriously.).
I went to bed crying that night, and I had a dream. Here is what was in my dream:
I was crying. And an older lady I couldn't see asked me what was wrong. I told her, "My dad is dying." She laughed--not cruelly, just one of those oh-is-THAT-all-it-is kinds of laughs--and said, "Yes, it's true, your dad is dying. But so are you. God created all creatures great and small and some day soon your time will come too. But until that time, you are never to worry about death and dying."
And then she suddenly went from being gentle and sweet to very very firm and serious and said again, "Until that time, you are NEVER to worry about death and dying." And then? I woke up.
Except I wasn't truly awake. My body was asleep but my mind was awake. You know how when people are in a deep sleep, they breathe really deeply? Yes, that was my body. It was frozen in sleep, taking very deep breaths. But my brain was awake--I knew I was in my bedroom, I realized I was in my bed, and in the instant I realized something was weird here, how is my body asleep but I'm...a man's voice spoke in my ear and said what the old lady had said in my dream: "You are NEVER to worry about death and dying."
And then I completely woke up, practically screaming, turning on every single light that existed in my tiny apartment. All of that happened in the span of a split second--the waking/not waking, the voice, the true waking. And I have never experienced it ever again. It was very similar to when a pet dog I'd grown up with and loved dearly made her transition, and I was inconsolable with grief about it. While weeping over her loss, a sudden KNOWLEDGE that she was okay...not a feeling, not a thought, more like a KNOWING washed over me along with a very brief yet unforgettably intense warmth and peace. It was so powerful, and I've never felt anything like it again.
Is it possible my brain's synapses misfired or crossed their wires both times? Maybe. I'm a big fan of science, so I'm not going to rule out that the human brain is a complex organ capable of doing incredible, inexplicable things once in awhile. But I also think there are just some things that scientists need to stop peeing all over. And life after death is one of them. Please stop peeing all over life after death, Scientists. Humans in level 3 mourning need you to stop doing that. Especially when they can't go back and fix the past.
Crap. Life is hard, Internet. Be grateful for all your level one mourns, and try to rectify or resolve the level twos so the level threes are less gut punch-y. And if you're stuck in a level 2 or reeling from a level 3 mourn right now, please know you will be okay. You will be okay. You will be okay. The people who go leave tiny little holes in our hearts that never fill back in, but you will be okay, I promise. Okay?
And for the record, I totally didn't take the old lady or the man's advice: I worry about death and dying daily. Because I'm a total control freak who likes to think I have magical powers to stop it. Which none of us do. And we will all be okay anyway.