Two things occurred to me this week at entirely separate times, both involving some very sad news I received on Monday. A colleague of mine from teaching died on Monday. She was one of the truly good people I ever knew. She was kind, helpful, a devoted teacher, and an adoring mother to her two little children. She was only thirty-one years old. As soon as I heard of her death, I was overwhelmed with a deep sadness. And all I could manage to distill out of all of my emotions was the fact that It Just Wasn't Fair.
That's when I realized that, when it comes to Death, I am a child. I am fearful of losing those I love, and when confronted with Death, I want to turn around and go the other way, and quickly too, because I also feel like I want to throw up. I didn't really experience Death when I was growing up. My dad's parents were already gone by the time I was three, and no one close to me died when I was little. We didn't have pets, either, until I was much older, so I didn't even have a pet to experience Death with. Of course, there is absolutely a chance that there was a death that I simply don't recall. Much of my childhood seems and feels blurry to me, partly because I spent 85% of it reading library books, and partly because I operated on a "need to know" basis. As in "Mom or Dad will tell me what I need to know."
I often wish that our culture had a healthier view of Death. In many Eastern cultures, for example, Death is viewed as a higher plane of existence--not an ending, but a beginning, an even more perfect form of consciousness. I have a lot of ambiguity regarding Death. The idea of a Heaven of some sort is comforting, but I don't really think it exists. It bothers me, the Not Knowing. And I hate the whole social aspect of a Death. When my father died, I was outraged that we--the bereaved family--had to do anything. Why on earth would anyone expect us to receive visitors when our father and, for my mother, her husband had just died? How could we stand there and talk to people, many of whom I did not even know? And my mother started worrying about feeding them, and where we could do that, and yada yada yada. I could barely function. I could still see my father lying there in the emergency room, the sheets tightly tucked around him, nothing showing but his head. (It was only weeks later when it dawned on me that his chest was cracked open in their efforts to revive him. We wouldn't have wanted to see that.) Funerals are brutal things. They're like bridal and baby showers: they're full of good intention on both sides, but they are terrible things for both sides. I can't bring myself to go to funerals, "showings" (there's a horrifying term, right?), any of that. I feel like, one less person means the family can get the hell out of there a few minutes earlier and grieve in private. At the very least, they can rest. I went to the funeral of a former student once, a friend of Jared's too. It was so terribly sad. But Jared was a mess. He got to the casket and broke down, then started choking and retching. He hadn't wanted to go to the casket, but the mom insisted.
The second thing I realized came as a result of sitting in the oral surgeon's waiting room while St. Patsy had her tooth pulled. Quite a few mothers were there with their children, and the kids ranged in age from about five up to seventeen. I leafed through a few magazines as I waited, but some of the mothers merely sat there and nagged their kids. One gorgeous little boy named Andre got a nonstop diatribe from his mother that sounded so nasty and hateful that I almost burst into tears. She reprimanded him about his shoes, the volume of his electronic game, the fact that he sounded "too grown", how dirty he got, the way he talked about his grandmother, and all manner of things. Each time she spat something nasty his way, he looked up at her, puzzled and a little sad. So every time I caught his eye, I smiled or winked. Another mother was there with her two kids, a boy and girl, who looked to be eleven and twelve. She clearly wanted an audience, so she said audacious things to and about her kids, their schools, their behaviour, their father, and whatever she could to get a laugh. She soon started picking at every single thing they said, pouncing on mispronounced words, grammar mistakes, anything they said incorrectly. But instead of merely correcting them, she repeated their error and added 'huh?' at the end of it. For example, "So you already seen the movie, huh?" When her daughter would blush in embarrassment, she would say, "Why ya turnin' red?" It was awful.
I thought about these poor kids, trapped in a life with these parents. What were they learning? What would they grow up to be? I thought about all the people who want to be thought of as pro-lifers, who want every single baby to be born into the world, no matter what. I wondered if they ever saw parenting like this and realized that they were wishing it on an innocent child. And I still think that every single anti-choice hardliner should have to spend a week with a child welfare social worker and a police officer who investigates child abuse claims. They should have to see what life some babies are born into.
I was sitting there, in that office, and I thought about my former colleague and how she so much deserved to be alive. She was a wonderful, loving, devoted parent. Those women are here, and she is not. And it all makes me sick.