Drowning in Death

I haven’t written about all the death around me lately because death is a bummer, but I found out yesterday that another friend of mine died unexpectedly on Saturday and I AM FED UP.

Since October, I’ve lost three friends, one to suicide and two to alcohol. Two-and-a-half weeks ago, my young cousins – brothers aged 16 and 17 – died in a car accident, and my best friend’s mom passed on Feb. 25th.

I learned when I worked in hospice that I separate myself from the passage of elders. (“Old people die.”) It didn’t occur to me to grieve for my grandfather until the oldest woman in Utah died at the age of 104. She was on our service. When she passed, I realized that she was three decades older than grandpa had been – a full adult lifetime longer than he had – and I was furious! It was the weirdest moment.

It was followed by all the stages, all at once, and then I was fine again. I wonder if Grandpa would still adore me like he did when I was a kid, or if he, too, would have written me off like my immediate family has, after it became clear that I’m not Mormon, and I’m not going to be. I was only 26 when Grandpa died. There was hope yet.

Now I’m just a cranky, middle-aged lady that grows more convinced every day that humanity is an invasive species, and all problems can be solved by Cat.

I hurt when Judy died, for my friend, mostly. They were extremely close. She was such a beautiful, warm, kind woman. Interestingly, she taught me a lot about death when I was experiencing it for the first time.

In high school, a kid in my friend group was accidentally shot by another friend. Judy flew up from Texas. It’s my first memory of her, other than as some adult somewhere in the house (before they relocated to TX), of no interest to me. She didn’t say much of anything, just sat there. I remember being so comforted by her presence. She didn’t do a thing, but she has this “roundness of energy.” You know people like that? With that sort of enveloping coziness?

Two days after the accident, I went to the home of the friend who fired the gun. Everyone was there from my group. I was in hell in that room. I hadn’t gone to the bonfire, and as a result all of my friends were trauma-bonded without me. What the hell does a 17-year-old kid say to any of this? I remember Judy laughing at one point. She’d been saying something, I don’t know what, and she laughed. I was aghast! This was sacrosanct!

And life goes on, the sacred and profane. I’ve never forgotten that moment.

I didn’t visit Judy the last two times I was in Texas. She was literally steps away in the house across the pond, but I was sick one time and the kids were sick the other. We couldn’t risk her health. I keep feeling like I should’ve gone, but but but …

I loved Judy. She made me feel a part of the family.

I didn’t realize for another decade that I’d been traumatized, too, by my friend’s tragic death. I hated myself so much back then. Now I had to look in the mirror and wonder what kind of sick person wishes she’d been at the scene of her friend’s bloody death. I just remember being jealous (jealous!), feeling terribly alone, and hating everyone.

Years later, mom and I would agree that that was one of those moments my angels stepped in on. With the fragile journey I would take with my mental health, I remain convinced that I wouldn’t have recovered from witnessing such a thing.

Then you feel guilty feeling like someone or something interceded for you, and not for those who were there, or for my friend who caused the accident! They can’t unsee it either. Nevertheless, I feel like something bigger than me protected me from what I couldn’t handle. Perhaps it’s silly, but what isn’t silly about believing in an invisible, benevolent cheerleading squad?

Back then, I posited all blame for the aftermath of Matt’s death on my best friend. That’s been a trend in our life. Eleven years later, I’d picked some fight with her and she finally got mad. (She doesn’t do that.) “What!” she yelled at last. “What did I do?!”

“I’m mad at you for Matt!” I was stunned. I had no idea. I was horrified.

I realized when my cousins sons died earlier this month that there’s some deep shit buried in me still around that death in high school. I felt all kinds of anxiety and guilt about those boys. I didn’t know them. I’d seen them once at a family party. They were toddlers, tumbling over each other like kittens, for hours. It was so cute and funny!

I didn’t want to go to the viewing. I didn’t know why. But… ask yourself a question… I realized that the last time I’d seen a young man lying in a coffin, it was Matt. There’s just nothing okay about young people dying. Thinking about it even now makes me sick.

In fact, I got sick. I thought about my cousin in a wheelchair and how frequently ill she is. I couldn’t forgive myself if she got this awful head cold and didn’t recover. So I didn’t go at all, and then I got FOMO, for a funeral! What kind of sick person wants to be a part of such a sad occasion? And there was that feeling again, the one I’d known all those years ago as a teenager who wished she’d seen her friend shot.

That’s when I realized my sorrow was for Matt and myself, and not those boys – though my heart did break for my cousin, their dad, for their siblings, and their grandma, my favorite auntie.

And now Kenaram (that’s Kendall, after Hinduism). I hadn’t seen him for a long time. I’ve been sick all winter, and seeing Kenaram requires drinking to oblivion. I wasn’t up for it. Recently, I sent him a picture of a pair of Jeffrey’s boots – my friend Jeff was his brother – telling him, “I stole these boots off a dead man, and I think they should go to you!”

I wore them to E11 the summer Jeffrey died. I didn’t find out until two weeks later, just days before our local burn, and I felt him there with me, in his shoes, the whole time. I went stark raving mad, actually, and talked to him aloud all weekend. A crazywoman talking to herself out loud in a pair of boots she stole from her roommate.

People complimented my boots that whole festival.

“Thanks! I stole ’em off a dead man!”

I feel like I’ve unzipped from my body. Last night, I went to the grocery store and crossed against a light in a break in traffic. There was an oncoming commuter train! What the hell was I thinking?! It had to stop to let me cross! Good grief. I about died from embarrassment. I about died, full stop. Wtf?

I finally started crying this morning on the bus. I got a picture in my mind of his “tunnel” – color, color, color! – and the LOVE and relief he’s feeling right now, and I started bawling. Haven’t really stopped. Oh, I skipped work yesterday, just plain ditched, no message, turned off my phone and went back to bed, fuck-it-I-don’t-care. I came in today, asking what my boss had said. He told my colleagues I’d called in sick.

That was nice.

I’m so tired. I feel like I’m not even crying about Kenaram, or Jazzy, or Melissa, who killed herself in October. I’m crying because it was St. Patrick’s this weekend, and a little dip in mood often follows binge drinking.

I’m feeling sorry for myself. Death sucks, for me. I hate myself in its context, so I hate it.

The end.

kenaram and me

Burner Day in the Park 2014, a week after our first henna ~ Ginger4ever ~ © Rudy Van Bree


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