By the time we get to be middle aged we have all experienced the death of someone we love. Some of us like myself have experienced many deaths. It is hard to imagine when we are kids that these people will ever not be around. I am in process of writing two books. One about addiction and enabling and one about death and grief. I write based on my own life experiences with these two necessary but rather unpopular subjects. I am somewhat of an expert on both, not by choice but by life and how unplanned and unpredictable it can be. Death is a natural part of life, I knew this, yet was so unprepared. So taken aback by what I knew would be the inevitable.
When I write of death, of losing my family and of forging ahead without them I talk a lot about “going elsewhere”. This for me became a coping tool . I mastered this tool….like a lumberjack with an axe.This was something I could do inside my own head when I simply did not want to be in reality. It is emotional dislocation. Reality can be terribly painful, elsewhere can be anything we need and want it to be. After my father died I went elsewhere right before I landed in Albany. I would imagine Dad would be there to pick me up garbed in his same winter p coat he had since my birth, black wool hat that my mother hated and snow boots that had seen better days. Huge smile intact, arms extended. I could almost feel the bear hug. I could hear his voice “hiya hon” “are you getting younger”? Dad always the smooth talker. We would drive home and pull up to the house where I knew Mom was waiting inside having just returned from church ( always) and making dinner. I would see her little head in the kitchen window. Funny the things I seem to remember and miss the most are small little things like my moms head in that kitchen window. Like dads tattered winter clothes, like “are you getting younger”? I really miss that one!
Now we have landed and the reality sets in, no Dad, no Mom, no hug, no what used to be, just reality of what is no longer there and let me tell you….it bites. Elsewhere is a comfort and a painful reminder at the same time. My mom has been gone 11 years and I still have to stop myself from pulling things off the rack in the store that I think she might like. I allow myself to go elsewhere for just a second, just long enough to comfort myself. Long enough to feel the feeling again, just for a moment.
I have always been great at pretending, maybe that is why I got so good at this whole thing. I find myself creating elsewhere scenarios all the time with my parents. I imagine they are visiting and wonder what we would be doing and how they would react to certain events. For example I will be having my second hip surgery in ten days and if they were alive they would fly down to fuss over me and lend a hand. Dad would make jokes about how I am going to be bionic and cook us up wonderful food and mom would worry and pray and tell me I need to wear a better bra and make sure I bring panties to the hospital cause it will be cold. Mom used to sell ladies fine lingerie, can you tell? But no matter, they would be here and going to my elsewhere place allows me to experience it just for a moment. For me this has been a big part of my healing.
In the book “The Year of Magical Thinking” Joan Didion writes prolifically about death and grief. She captures the essence of loss so beautifully when she speaks about how in the beginning we pretend they are coming back. She pretended her husband John was coming back. Very much like going elsewhere. Joan has been there, to this place in the brain where hope resides, restless hope, unrealistic hope, irrational hope, hope against hope. Hope that does not exist. We go there and we wait.
I never wanted to know the language of grief. Through the process though I have also found enlightenment and a love and appreciation for what is here today. I have learned to take nothing for granted, especially those I love. I still visit elsewhere sometimes when I need to but mostly I live in the now and carry on the legacy that my parents left me. To simply be a good person, stay close to family and be happy. I miss them everyday but I know they are with me standing on the sidelines and as I coach others…..they are coaching me. I think they are happy.