I've only lost one meaningful grown-up human in my life, and that was Granny back in 5th grade. She was in her sixties when her heart stopped suddenly. This particular granny - my mom's mom - was a jolly, slightly heavy-set woman with painted fingernails and a kick-ass condominimum overlooking downtown Seattle. This woman knew how to live, let me tell you. She picked me up from school and babysat me every afternoon, and gave me Kraft caramels from her kitchen drawer and petite-four cakes from her freezer. Sometimes she dragged me around to visit her old-lady friends, and I liked nestling into the white leather backseat of her huge Monte Carlo. Granny laughed a lot and always had big-band jazz and swing music playing somewhere, and loved me so fiercely that I could feel it through her perfumed hugs. She was like this happy, lovey, personality-filled blast from the past. My mom told me her arteries had clogged up from all the butter and Beef Wellington and sweets that she ate.
What an honorable way to die.
I don't remember what all I felt as a child attempting to process her death. I do remember watching on in horror and astonishment as my parents both cried on and off (because...you know...parents just don't do that sort of thing), especially my mom, and following suit to join in on the crying. But I think I was mostly crying because I was confused, because watching the adults who form the hulking walls around your safe little childhood-world break apart into tears is a definite moment of WTF??? for a 5th grader. I was also crying because right around that time, my big brother and his friends walked into my carefully constructed Barbie city in on the basement floor, knocking over my Barbie McDonalds and making little plastic cheeseburgers and fries go flying in every direction. Oddly, I remember that just as clearly as Dad telling me in a shakey voice that Granny was gone.
Mom told me several months later, "Nobody is ever really dead until people stop talking about them." And our family did, for a while, make it a point to talk about Granny from time to time. That was Granny's favorite restaurant! That's where Granny got her car washed! Granny would have loved this casserole! We moved to Buffalo NY, and there I recall lying on the lawn of our suburban house with my hair spread around me like a halo, looking up at clouds, and trying to channel thoughts to Granny - especially on sad days when I felt lonely (which was a lot of days).
But after a while, the conversation about Granny - the lying there and consciously trying to imagine her, the memories of her death itself - sort of melted away. Time passed, my brother and I grew up, my parents moved on. We all went in different directions. Does this just happen with death? Like, will Patrick Swayze disappear from the front news headlines in a few days or weeks like Michael Jackson did? Does it happen with real people in our lives, like parents and friends and spouses? I don't really know, since I only have Granny to go by.
It's frustrating how little I actually remember about how and when and where she died; about what I was doing and thinking when it happened. Even everything I just mentioned could be a figment of my imagination; was it really THEN that the Barbie McDonald's got attacked? Or was that an earlier year? Am I confusing that with the My Little Pony town that got demolished, or the head of my Cabbage Patch Kid preemie doll that got squashed? Those petite-four cakes - were they really in the freezer? Or the cupboard? What did my Dad say, exactly, to announce her passing away? And where was Mom when he said them?
And Granny's body. I have this picture in my mind of her lying on her bed in that condominium, face-up in a black velvet jogging-suit type of thing, lipstick on and nails painted, my mother opening the door and walking in, finding her there, her body cold, Frank Sinatra playing softly in the background. Mom letting out some sort of piercing cry and running down the hall, fumbling for a phone, dialing 911. Where do I get this image from?
I wasn't even there.
* * *
Fast forward to 2006, hot and buzzy summer in rural Arkansas. When the first fetus (also known as Boy Fetus or Grapefruit, since he was grapefruit-sized), my mom saw me lying in a hospital bed while I waited for my body to kick into labor. I was a pathetic little strand of a person under that white blanket, having dropped a bunch of pounds and shat a bunch of watery shit because the hospital would only feed me Popcicles and chicken broth (don't get all excited; I gained it all back and then some).
Her face crumpled and she said, "Don't worry. That little baby is with Granny now."
I kind of squirmed and felt awkward when she said it, because it just seemed like one of those kind of silly things that parents say when they don't know what else to say. Uh, nice try to make me feel better, Mom, what with the fairytale of Granny up there with my little Grapefruit, feeding him petite-four cakes and rocking out to Bing Crosby in some smoky jazz club. But later I thought about it more, realizing it was comforting to imagine that there might be something in it for this almost-child who never set foot on the planet, something worthwhile after his or her death.
It also made me think back to what my mom had told me back in 5th grade: nobody is ever really dead until people stop talking about them. And right then, twenty-or-whatever years later, we had talked about Granny - boom, just like that. Weird, how easily she came easily to the surface of our minds at a time like this. Maybe the dead only make an appearance when we need them the most; maybe gas prices from heaven are astronomical so those spirits up there have to economize.
On a few occasions since then and even before, I've found myself wanting to return to the horror of Granny's death, fly down that cylindrical tunnel of time through years and months and days, just to be there and live it again, no matter how painful and awful. Force-feeling, I call it - kind of like force feeding, but with feelings instead of food. And low and behold, I've done the same thing with you know who: that feisty little disappearing Zachary.
And why? For what? To remember them both alive? Can't be that, since the part I long to return to is the time when they became dead, not living. To remember them dead? Perhaps, but again...why? To dredge up old memories to make sense of my confused, 5th-grade thoughts and later, my even more confused 31-year-old thoughts? Because, when a shit bomb gets dropped on my head, I guess I tend to check out for a while, and it's only later when I'm ready that I long to check back in?
Come on, Shitty Moment. Take me back! I know I sort of bailed when you were happening. Just let me back in for a second so I can see what you were really like before you're gone forever.
* * *
Introducing today's KuKd word:
FORCE-FEEL (v): the act of purposely reliving a negative experience, just because it feels good in a sort of masochistic way. Noun: force-feelage. Adjective: force-feely. ("Don't look at those old medical records. That's such a force-feely thing to do.")
"Honey, why are you sitting there bawling and eating ice cream straight from the carton?"
"Because I spent the morning force-feeling. Leave me alone for a while; I'm trying to be depressed and you're distracting me!"
Now, force-feeling with a death that happened when you were a child: that's a tough one. So much time as gone by that you've got little memory-molecules left in your brain to work with. And that was before all of the technological means we have these days that keep a virtual "footprint" of such events. E-mails, blogs, Facebook, etc.
Fortunately today we've got so many tools for force-feeling! Stuff just doesn't go away! Which - if you're a force-feeler - is a good thing. I've done this with Zachary a few times, and did it just recently after seeing the movie Up, which brought up more sobby, gutwrenchy bawling than any movie I've ever seen since Schindler's List. A good time to force-feel, when the emotions are already churned up like a good, fluffy meringue for a lemon pie.
Force-Feeling: Here's how the pro's do it, ready?
The best way is to make use of technology. E-mail, specifically. If you're like me, your Yahoo inbox contains some 20,000 some-odd messages dating back to 2003 or earlier. It's easy to do a search for messages sent on or around the EXACT DATE of the horror. Perfect for reliving the moment! So you get a cuppa joe, unhook the phone, snuggle into a big comfy chair with a box of Kleenex, and start reading. The moment, the thoughts you were thinking and the feelings you were feeling, and the impressions that other people were getting, will flood back to you so fast that pretty soon, you'll be feeling up a storm.
Force-feeling up a storm, that is.
Here's a sampling of my own.
August 15th (day before the horror)
Darren, Jayson, Jared:
Are any of you free, strong, awake, and potentially hungry this Sunday morning at 9:30? We need some strong sexy studly men to help move some big, pain-in-the-ass stuff in our house. And, as prego princess, I have no choice but to stand by idly, nibble on pastries and just watch. We'll be done with most of the basement semi-finishing project and need to shift stuff around to get the baby room ready. Free breakfast included, so come hungry!
xoxo - monica
August 16th (oh fuck - but don't worry, I sound just fine)
Very sorry for the semi-mass e-mail and be the breaker of bad news, but i'll be away from the computer for a few days so thought i'd give you an update.
Our baby boy (it's a boy, it turns out) is dying from heart failure - some rare congenital defect we just found out about this morning. He's not expected to survive more than a few days. A bunch of top cardio specialists and what-nots confirmed this at UW hospital today -nothing we expected at all, just something they discovered in a routine check-up this morning.
Anyway, we're going into UW medical center Friday morning to induce labor, probably will be there thru Sunday -expect a stillborn or baby to live less than an hour after being born. We're actually doing OK at the moment, appreciating each other more than ever, looking at it as another "not meant to be" situation, and preparing to move on with our lives. Anyhoo, sorry for the shitty news, nothing anyone can say or do so don't worry about it. we'll keep you posted in the meantime and have our cells at the hospital.
August 17th (from a guy-friend)
I'm very sorry to hear about this. Let me know if there's any way I can help with anything (well, you know, not with any medical procedures, but, say, helping you move heavy things or buying you cups of coffee).
August 24th: (from Mom in Europe)
Hi Monica, we never got to an internet cafe in Oslo, ran out of time. But guess what, we found out that in many cities you can hop on for 1-2 hour free at a library, so that's where we are today. Smallish town Norway. It'll take time for the pain of your loss to subside. Allow yourself to grieve. Your life will have so many happy times, but some sad times, too. What you experienced was such a significant loss that don't be surprised if some corner of your heart always feel that loss, but the pain of it will diminish and you'll feel joy again, I promise. If you feel even an inkling of the need, please talk to your doctor or Group Health and get ahold of a grief counseler to help you with this. OK? You know intellectually that there are many wonderful things that will come your way, but you'll need to work through the feelings of loss, so do whatever you need to. Whether it's painting the walls or playing spades or talking to a counseler, do what you need to do. We love you.
About travel stuff, change of topic, did you know in Denmark there is a 180% tax on cars and a twice a year property tax on cars? That puts people on buses and bikes!
August 19th (from my older brother)
I just returned from the beach, where watched the sun set and cried for probably the first time in two years. It truly broke my heart to think that this was a baby who was about to become part of our family...your son, my nephew. I must tell you that it also feels good to me on some level to feel this emotional about you and the baby. I struggle sometimes to find relevance in my world when it can sometimes seem kind of shallow. To feel this emotional about you and the baby made me feel more human.
There's a famous quote that I can't recall but it says something about the difference between the people who sit on the sidelines and critique and those who compete in the ring of life. It's sort of macho, something about a bloodied gladiator emerging victorious, but I think it kind of applies in this case. You and Kevin are living life to the fullest and whatever the outcome you should both be proud of that.
* * *
So, they're just snippets, like little flashbacks of various episodes. But I save these e-mails and treasure them, and thank the corporate yahoos over at Yahoo for creating a natural holding place for memories, because these relics that preserve a dead creature in my mind. I wish we had some such things for Granny, too. And yeah, it's sad to reread those things - but I do it anyway - because that's what Force-Feeling is all about.
Especially useful for stubborn asses like me - who can't "feel" on command. I think I finally got the counselors and social workers to understand this: I'll feel when I...um...feel like feeling, okay?
OH - and by the way! THIS IS IMPORTANT! I *strongly* recommend Force-Feeling only when your husband or other male-counterpart not around. If he's typically or stereotpyically guy-ish like mine is, he'll say something ridiculously rational like, "Why are you reading those old e-mails if they upset you so much?"
Ah, men. Some things they just weren't meant to get. ;-)