Death season is upon me, while I suppose it’s technically season 2 I didn’t know season 1 was coming so…
Here we are. One year ago I was reeling from my moms unexpected suicide while trying desperately to cling to hope that my dad would survive.
It was a shitty time to say the least. However I can’t say this moment is much better; over the past year I’ve had family disown me & lost a job. Granted that job generally made me miserable, I miss my students.
I miss having an obligation, where someone would notice if I’m not around. where I was held account for my time.
Truthfully I’ve spent most of the past year in Disbelief (dissociation?) that they’re truly gone. I go from numb to paralyzed and back again daily. Some days the realness of it all is so intense I get sick, retching from anxiety like when I was a kid and had to sleep away from home.
August 29th will mark the end of this first (or second?) Death Season, between now & then let’s try to memento mori. Live this life remembering death will come to us all.
◦ Go back in the store and buy shit you don’t need to distract yourself
◦ Spend too long trying to find a valid reason to do thing 1
◦ Instead decide to go inside use the bathroom and/or splash your face with water
◦ Pace awkwardly around your car because standing is even more awkward
◦ Mentally list everyone you can think of in the vicinity, as well as the probability they’re around and will keep you company
◦ maybe call one
◦ Feel a bit silly about the call (of you got that far).
◦ Lean awkwardly against your car and hope that you’re the only person shitty enough to assume someone leaning on their car in a Walmart parking lot might be some kinda junkie/drug dealer/other miscellaneous miscreant
◦ Collect shopping carts in the hopes that people who are sitting inside their cars (lucky assholes) won’t notice you hanging out in a parking lot (and avoiding previous scenario)
◦ Endlessly refresh the AAA website to see the ETA
◦ Make a list of what to do when you’re stuck waiting for AAA
◦ Look for more birds
◦ Start to regret not eating that sandwich earlier
◦ Grow concerned as your phone flashes the “low battery” message.
◦ Vacillate between “looking on the bright side” (AKA it could always be worse) and being annoyed that you’re even IN a situation where you’re imagining worst case scenarios to feel better
◦ Think about zombies
◦ Make small talk with the kind older lady who asks if you need anything
◦ Be glad you impulse-bought a AAA membership last month for the free maps
◦ Watch somebody do their hair standing outside their car (hairspray & all) by looking at their reflection in their rear view mirror
◦ Realize they probably did that because it’d suck to be in a car filled with hair spray fumes
◦ Wonder why they’re taking so much care with their hair before entering Walmart
◦ Notice the storm clouds off in the distance aren’t quite so distant anymore…
◦ Make a mental note to start keeping a small notebook on your person for future updates
◦ Flag down the AAA truck with the light weight plaid you have tied a
◦ Thank Raziel (who was awesome) and congratulate yourself. You’ve survived a very minor 1st world inconvenience. (which isn’t always quite as easy as it sounds.)
So after that last long post I decided I desperately needed to see the death certificate. I needed that tangible proof she’d taken her life, and I needed to see when. Was it the day her body was found? Or had she laid there, decomposing, for days until someone noticed?
Well according to the official paperwork (which cost nearly $80) she died on July 23, from a self administered overdose.
They included the drugs she took, one of which she’d used in a previous attempt and another considered an “antiquated” drug for anxiety…antiquated because of it’s likelihood of addiction and other issues. It’s replaced by benzodiazepines, which are highly dang and addictive in their own right, so you can imagine the issues of this particular drug.
In two days there’s going to be a picnic, one that I host, in her memory. I doubt if anyone who knew her will actually show up. I know her brother is coming, maybe some old family friends, and of course my friends (because they love me or some such ).
The day after I got the certificate I started getting these INTENSE pains in my ear, pains I couldn’t shake off or valsalva maneuver my way out of. Turned out it’s an ear infection, but the antibiotics made me too sick to function so here we are.
Preparing for a picnic with sharp standby ear pains that come & go. Let’s just hope for the best, right?
I’ve always been a fan of poetry, but I don’t spend a lot of time with it. This came across my Pinterest a while back and it’s stuck with me.
Honestly the only time it seems I’m ready to crack, to let the immensity of what’s been lost envelope me, is when it’s too late. When it’s 2am and I just want to scream and I feel myself shaking from the effort of keeping it in.
But then it passes so I’m left choking on all the words left unsaid, the unfairness and injustice of it all.
I dont know how to make it better, I don’t know what I need to get through this mess. I just know it can’t be fixed, so I carry on.
I cried when I realized what came next on the kitchen calendar. I don’t mean I shed a quiet tear in memoriam, what I mean is I crumpled on the kitchen floor sobbing so hard I lost breath, all because I didn’t want what came next.
July is the start of the death season, the time one year ago when I lost both my parents in quick succession.
On July 23rd, 2020 I received a phone call. It was my aunt, who rarely ever calls me.I knew it wouldn’t be good news or a casual chat. I knew someone was hurt, bad.
“Mum’s gone, Jacquelyn.”
“What do you mean she’s gone?”
“Momma’s dead, she killed herself”
Cue me trying to logic my way out of this, me rationalizing that she might not be dead. That her friend, who found her lifeless body lying in her bed, could be mistaken. That we had to wait for the paramedics, for the professionals. That this wouldn’t have been the first false alarm….
Except it wasn’t false.
She was dead. She had overdosed on prescriptions and slit her wrists. I remember going to pack up her apartment and sitting on her bedroom floor, staring at her bed. When my cousin tried to tear me away I wouldn’t leave, her brother understood something I couldn’t have explained. He walked her out of the room and stood stoically behind me as I stared at her blood soaked pillow cases.
“You want a minute?” He asked . I don’t recall if I just nodded, or if I managed words, but I do remember sitting alone on her floor. I think I was trying to make myself feel something, anything. Trying to soak up the reality of this impossible situation.
My mom killed herself and I needed to see that proof.
I needed evidence, and in the months that followed I was obsessed with getting the truth. I would call the detective who left me his card, asking again and again for whatever evidence she’d left behind. Her friend mentioned a note, did they have it? Could i see it? What about her cell phone, was there anything relevant on there?
Eventually I got the cell phone, the first and only smartphone she’d ever owned. On it were worried voicemails from a woman I don’t know, asking if she’s ok. The last one was from October…after that they stopped. Her mailbox was full.
I never saw the note.
Along with the search for answers, for concrete evidence, there was anger. I couldn’t (and still struggle) to understand how she could give up her life while my father was fighting so hard to stay…
How could she leave me? Why did she give up? We hadn’t spoken in almost a year, but I’d sent her a letter. I wanted to try to have a functional relationship, maybe we could be penpals at first? I found the letter in her mailbox. She decided for me, for us, that we could never make it right.
Boy howdy did that piss me right off.
By taking the most drastic of measures she ended any hope of reconciling, of developing a stronger and healthier relationship with me. She made a choice for both of us, and I hated her for it.
I’m sure I will again, but not right now.
For the past two weeks or so this experience, the whole ‘grieving’ thing, has shifted for me. The dread of the first anniversary of her death has all but extinguised my anger, instead bringing all the guilt and sorrow to the surface.
This wasn’t her first tango with death, she’d had many attempts over the years stretching as far back as I can remember.
The only difference this time is I wasn’t there.
I wasn’t there to see the signs. To encourage her to get help. To force her in the car and drive her to the hospital myself, to childlock the doors when she tried to jump out on the freeway.
Logically I know that if a person is determined enough there is no stopping them, but I still feel guilty. I feel abandoned, and alone in a way I can’t possibly describe. While I believe that grief is isolating for everyone, since we all share a unique bond with the deceased, I feel especially fucked. Her family, besides one brother, has all but disappeared over the past year. Besides I don’t really know any of her friends, and I’ve only myself to blame for that.
I’ve arranged to have a picnic next week in her name, I reserved a bunch of tables and invited people on Facebook. I called the one friend of hers I do know, she said she’d take off the day and come by. That she’d let others know.
I’m doing this in the hopes that other people can share their good memories of my Mom, because mine are all tainted. I’d like to have something positive to hold onto, and I need help finding it.
So about a year or so ago I heard about a new spa in the area called “Float”. Their shtick? Fancy tubs in dark rooms where you can float in almost complete sensory isolation.
I was OBSESSED.
Then I think the pandemic hit, or maybe my dad’s diagnosis hit, or my mom was stalking me….either way it fell to the wayside and I nearly forgot my desire to lay in the dark, suspended by water, in the hopes of some otherworldly experience.
Until yesterday that is.
For no discernible reason I remembered that long ago wish and booked a tub for the next day. Then my friend was in town so I pushed it back an hour, all the white wondering what ethereal experiences awaited me.
Well, despite my hopes for transcendence I spent most of my sixty minutes trying to avoid getting salt in my eyes (and furiously rubbing them with my terry cloth towel when I failed). I left feeling wonky (read:dehydrated) with my hair a salty dried out disaster.
However, dear reader, I did learn some things so don’t despair. Not all is lost.
Wear goggles on your eyes, duh.
Don’t turn the music up super loud, you’ll only hear the bass at first and you’ll be convinced you’ve been unwittingly cast in a bad horror movie.
Ignore your body. No really, it’s called sensory deprivation for a REASON. If you spend the whole time visualizing the body you can’t feel it kinda defeats the purpose.
Probably hydrate more beforehand.
Also maybe meditate a bit to prepare
MOST IMPORTANTLY: Listen. Just let go of whatever pre conceived notions you have about meditation and Listen. Listen to the nothing, the music, stretch your hearing and take it all in. *this one is extra important to me, as I easily get caught up in mental monologues and lose sight of the Here & Now*
So yeah. Would I go again? Yeah probably. Do I expect to leave a new person, transformed by my time in The Tank? Nah, at least not after one visit. Like anything worth doing, I think practice will improve the experience.
So here’s to more meditation, and maybe a bit more peace of mind.
The following was inspired by a prompt from Megan Devine’s “Write Your Grief” course. I forget the actual prompt, the gist is ‘how would your loved one see you now? What’s going on for them?’. It’s in the POV of my Dad, which made me hesitate writing this (and also posting it). Honestly though, once I started it just flowed. I wont lie, I like how this came out. Maybe it’ll resonate for you.
I’m here now, which isn’t saying much really. “Here” is a tricky concept. Remember when I was telling you about quantum physics that time? How just thinking about something can change it tangibly, rearranging the molecules in ways we only barely understand?
Well I’m somewhere in that space. I can rewind to my earliest moments, in fact I’m fairly certain I caused that ghostly encounter on the road I told you about. That day must seem so long ago for you.
I can see the day you were born, you were so beautiful. That blond hair and blue eyes, outside of that you look just like me you know. You’re still beautiful, I didn’t mean to imply anything, but god I remember just being in aww.
I can see you now, sitting on the porch poking at your phone. You looked up just now, I saw the tears. I wonder if they’re for me or mom, or something else entirely.
I know this isn’t easy, Mom was having a rough time but she made that choice. I’m sorry she did that. I hope she’s at peace.
I heard you that day you know, when you sat with me while Cindy ran some errands.
I tried to stay, I really did.
That day, when they told you to come, and I held on…. I never pushed myself that far physically, every muscle fiber screamed for air as I lay gasping and waiting and praying I would hold on long enough…
Then you came. I was afraid I was hallucinating when you walked in and out so quickly. That’s not my Jacquelyn. No.
I know it’s been a rough time, but you’re made of tougher stuff. Tougher than most I’d say. In this “place” I can do more than just visit the past, I can see the vast spectrum of existence and all that entails. Took a little while to figure out the controls but I’ve got it under control now, for the most part.
It’s amazing, and so are you. I can see the possibilities that lay before you, and all the potential the future holds for you. Know that you are capable of doing great things, and that you already have.
I’m gonna go peak on Bridget & Wyatt now, I can’t tell if any of you guys sense my visits, but I like to check in.
I love you, go shower and get a good nights rest.
PS: you’re right about the birds, the hawks and the eagles. Tell Cindy for me.
I’ve been reading a lot about stoicism, this philosophy where (in a nutshell) you on increasing ‘positive’ emotions and minimizing the negative ones. Basically use your energy on the good stuff and avoid getting caught up in the anger, misery, pain of the shitty shit that comes with life.
It’s a great idea, and honestly sounds a lot like the kind of advice my Dad would give. In some ways it’s easy to think of a bad attitude or negative emotion like a kind of virus. It’s unwanted, often unexpected, and contagious. If left unchecked it can quickly overwhelm your system.
Good news is that, just like a virus, there’s something to be be done about it. We can try to prevent it showing up at all by practicing good habits. We can work to notice the symptoms early on, catch those errant thoughts before they develop into something worse. And, like with any contagion, we can avoid those we know are infected, thereby minimizing our risk of catching “Bad Mood By Proxy”.
Since so much of what I’ve written here is about loss and pain and the suck that is grieving you might be wondering “How can this possibly apply to Grief? How can you remedy this forever ache that can’t be fixed?”.
That’s what I’m trying to figure out myself, and though I’m not sure exactly how to make it happen I know it’s worth trying. I know I can experience the pain when it comes, but I can also recognize and embrace all the good times as well.
Yes I’m sure I’ll still breakdown at the drop of a hat, or get angry about how things played out. How unfair and unjust life can be, how could this have happened, why me….etc etc. But The Plan is to see these thoughts & recognize them for what they are before they turn into a pity-party spiral of sadness.
To refocus myself, staying present but still acknowledging the pain.
Hey, thanks for coming. It’s been a busy and intense few weeks, so I’ve been too busy avoided writing. If I’m honest, I’ve avoided any scenario where I might have time or reason to think too deeply about what’s been happening.
So, baby steps, right? Below is a bulleted list of events, at least what seems relevant to the story, in the best facsimile of a timeline that I can muster right now.
On Friday 5/14/2021 someone I care about (they’re now named SICA) was admitted to the Emergency Department Psych-Holding-cell thingy.
They were admitted via Police escort after asking several neighbors to call the police on them.
During this pilgrimage SICA wore only his socks, and continually smoked pot both on the road (legal here) and in various sheds/garages of said neighbors.
His first visit happened around 7:30 AM, and continued through the day until he was picked up by local PD around 4:15 pm.
SICA had been increasingly manic for months, with changes in behavior, mood and habits first noted earlier last fall.
This coincides with a dramatic increase in his pot use, changing from an occasional user to what appears to be habitual daily use. Judging from the smell & his behavior he’s stoned during almost all of his waking hours.
SICA’s spouse ultimately granted his request and called 911. While waiting for emergency services she attempted to give him his shoes; but he insisted she just ‘leave them on the edge of the sidewalk’ and kept his hands raised, feet in socks, facing the road until the police arrived.
SICA is adamant that he isn’t in need of psychiatric help, but that is all a ‘miscommunicaiton’ due to his wife’s incompetence.
He also insists that if they ‘just went to couples therapy’ everything could be sorted out.
SICA, in addition to just being off/manic over the past few months, went full-on crude n’ cruel when admitted to the ‘psych holding cell’. He sent text messages, made facebook posts, and repeatedly expressed himself in a way that was…alarming at best.
This behavior included calling the house 8-15 times in a row, leaving increasingly agitated messages & occasional veiled threats.
He also started a text chain with his wife and adult son, making demands, accusations, and more thinly veiled threats.
HERE’S WHERE IT GETS INTERESTING….
From May 14-May 17th he was held under 24 observation. I was told repeatedly he would be Sectioned (Admitted for 72 hours for psych evaluation because he’s considered a harm to himself or those around him)
I was told this by the crisis clinicians who did his initial evaluation, and by members of the Crisis staff who had interacted with him throughout the weekend. (Yes I was on a release of information for SICA & could legally obtain said information….which I had to prove to each new shift nurse who answered the phone…)
BUT THEN…. Monday morning I called to do my morning check-in and was notified that a bed had been found for him, and he would be moved to an actual psych ward where therapeutic intervention could occur!
Remember: up until this point he had been in the Emergency Department Psych-Holding-Cell, on a renewable 24-hr observational holduntil he could be admitted.
I was then notified that he would be given the option to voluntarily admit himself, and if he refused he would be sectioned. When I asked about the reasoning for this the clinician told me something along the lines of “He’s more likely to stay for treatment if he goes voluntarily”.
Ok, sure lady, I’m not a mental health worker but I’ve been on this ride before and have yet to see it play out like that. But sure, yeah, you do you…
On May 18th he was seen for the actual psych eval, at which point he exercised his right and requested to leave ASAP.
He was discharged 72 hours later with a minor medication adjustment, per the law. This is despite the family continuing to advocate for their safety & that they felt unsafe, a lack of conversation regarding a “Safe Discharge Plan”, and zero plan for further supports/treatment.
So, here we are. Nearly two weeks later. SICA continues to be aggressive towards his family. His moods cycle rapidly, his memory is spotty at best, and he is ignoring recommendations from the Psych he saw (as well as his PCP) that he should refrain from smoking pot.
Why haven’t I posted? Well, this whole ordeal has left me spinning a bit. I went through all of this with my Mom on multiple occasions over the years. From involuntary admissions to bed searches to Safe Discharge plans…I’ve run the gamut. While I’m glad I was able to use that experience to help those I love, and in some sense reframe my interactions with these systems, it’s still left me with a lot of shit.
Shit like remembering how my Mom acted in the ward. How one day she was like a frightened child but three days before she’d been trying to physically hurt me for reasons I can’t remember/never know/will never understand.
Also remembering my Dad’s advice, and how he helped me to understand that what she was going through wasn’t something I needed to go through with her. That supporting her didn’t always mean I had to “be there”, and that my own life needed living outside of her issues.
Then, of course, there’s remembering all those years Dad wasn’t there and I did it alone….
I think it’s sufficient to say it’s been intense.I’ll update if it continues to be relevant for my life, but mostly I plan to write more regularly. What I *actually* write is anyone’s guess, buuuut I’m guessing grief will make an appearance.
If you’ve made it this far, thanks for coming & see you soon,
For my Dad it isn’t too hard to imagine what he’d say, given that I started rehearsing his advice exactly 8 months before his death. Diagnosis Day.
I drove away that day knowing there was nowhere to turn. No one to turn to. My Dad was the person I’d’ve reached for, but I can’t exactly lean on him for support about His diagnosis. I knew Pancreatic Cancer was Bad. All cancer is bad, but PC has only a 7% survival rate to 5 years.
I also knew I would show a brave face, a hopeful disposition. I remember him telling me the words, his tone and timbre instantly etched onto my cochlea. Even now I hear it sometimes, an echo of him catching on the words. I remember we talked treatment plans, approaches. Logistics, tangible action plans.
Never what stage the cancer was.
Never the location, T-cell counts, none of that. He told me that day that he would keep me updated, but that he didn’t want this to dominate our time together.
I played along, for his sake as much as my own, never breaking face until I was alone.
In my head though I would hear him. His voice. That day as I drove home I began rehearsing. I remembered his reactions to every crisis, every conundrum or irritation I’d ever thought to share. I thought hard, concentrating on recreating his voice inside my head. The rhythms, cadences, how he’d shift his tone down deeper and feign a somber face just to tell me something ridiculous. How he’d laugh at his own ridiculousness, the jokes he made to lighten the mood when it started to weigh our conversations down.
I did all this so I could still reach you, talk it through with you, without burdening you.
How would you love me now, this sopping tear-stained shadow of a girl?
I think you would sit with me.
I think in your love you would let me cry it out, sob and scream and purge myself. I think if I’d only been able to show you, show me, how deep mom’s choice cut me maybe we could’ve talked it out.
I couldn’t. Wouldn’t. I put it away when I was with you. Her decision was not there with us, not after the morning I told you about her suicide. Your voice then seemed to mirror my own feelings. Angry at her choice, her incapacity to hope or believe in more. For her to choose death while you fought against it with everything you were, every fiber and breath…
But after I told you I pushed it away while we were together. As always your house was a place out of time, and when I’d visit whatever happened past the driveway didn’t matter.
In that place you’d care for me now, with coffee or cocoa or something to occupy my hands and my mind. Small and scared as I may be, overcome and overwhelmed just like I’d get when I was little. Those times I’d come to stay for the night and then cry inconsolably till I threw up or Mom came (sometimes Both).
Only now she’s not coming. Even if she did there’d be no solace in her presence. It would be like it was then. Her presence buying a temporary relief replaced by anxiety and shame for the want of it. For the selfishness sin of seeking comfort.
So Dad, you’ll see me, shattered and sobbing and scared, indifferent and numb, maybe you’ll even see me settled and calm.