Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Be Not Proud

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.


  1. Oh, Nance, I'm so sorry about the loss of your friend. What a tragedy for her children, husband, and all who loved her. :-(

    And I'm sorry that this has brought up such tough memories, too. I think there are folks who believe that death leads to another, better existence and unfortunately they're also usually the folks saying inane things to those grieving.

    I admit that there's a part of me that wishes that dealing with death could be more graceful for lack of a better word, but I just don't think it's possible. I don't want to experience that terrible feeling of loss, but I don't want to NOT experience it either, you know? Despite the pain and all that one goes through when losing a loved one, who really wants to be that other type, that "evolved" person?

    I agree with what else you've shared, too. Pro-lifers make me insane. They truly don't know or choose not to know the lives those unborn babies will face if they are born. Your solution is a good one.

    I've seen/heard other moms/dads like the ones you observed. Those kids will spend all their lives trying to recover from that kind of "parenting." Truly heartbreaking. I'm glad you sent some love that one child's way.


  2. Anonymous9:04 AM

    Beautiful thoughts here. I think that your awareness that you're a child when it comes to death is fascinating. So many ppl close to me died when I was a child and teenager that I never stopped to think that I was an adult on that topic.

    Also, I agree with you about the pro-lifers who avoid the sad realities that result when a child is not wanted. Good idea about forcing the pro-lifers to see things up close. Might help them understand how their view of life is just one of many.

  3. I'm so sorry about your friend :(

    You are exactly right about the forced birth folks. I would like them to come and work with me in some of the inner city schools and see what is going on. Or work with the kids who were born addicted and who are basically screwed for life. Or the extremely disabled who will never have more than a 2 year old's mentality.

    Ultimately though, I don't think they would care...they only want to force the woman to have birth and then they are outta there.

  4. TeacherPatti--No. They are too wrapped up in their ideology to care at that point. They see the child and see life, and self-righteously say, "All life is precious." I know this because at least two vehicles parked in the school lot when I taught there were plastered with RTL bullshit, driven by far-right tea party types. And I taught in one of the big urbans in NEO. They saw these kids every single day, and they saw/knew the parents.

    Ally Bean--Thank you. My parents were very Old School in that they shielded us from a lot of harsh things if and when they could. And because Death never occurred close to us, we didn't have that talk. I read so much, I'm sure I read tons of scenes of it in the various books I devoured, but there was a huge disconnect. I am also a very private person, and grief is an intimately personal emotion, I think. My father's services were agony for me.

    Rose--Oh, thank you. I am too. It will take me a while to get it sorted. I have to find a way to figure it out so it rests.

    Shirley--I do. I want to be the "more evolved" kind of person who is confident that the person who has died is truly passing on into a higher state, a better state, so I can be happy for him/her, rather than sad. I can feel bereft of his or her company, I can feel sorry for those left behind who need him/her, but at least I can feel glad that he/she is going on to a perfected state. It would make my tears, my heartbreak, my sense of grief lighter...like there was a "but" in them. "Yes, she's gone, but she is ...."

    I completely understand what you mean when you say that you don't want to be that way because it implies not feeling the import or impact of the person's loss in your life.

    My colleague was not in my life as a good friend. I knew her, we talked when we were together, but once I retired, I never saw her again. My grief is still true because I knew her to be such a good, kind, loving, talented person. She was so young, and she was always thinking of her students and her children. I could not, for the life of me, ever think of a single negative thing about her. Yet, she suffered a fatal illness, and now she's gone. It's almost offensive.

    What really upset me about those women in the office yesterday was the fact that the kids had not done a single thing to deserve the philippics they were receiving at the time. Those moms were just dredging up all kinds of stuff that had happened previously, tossing it in for good measure. Little Andre was playing his game with the sound a little bit loud, but once it was turned down, that should have been it. It wasn't. And the other mom, she was just in it for herself. I realize that my sensitivities were heightened due to my colleague's death. But lousy parenting is lousy parenting, and as you said, those kids have a lot to get over.

  5. Yes, it is totally not fair that your beautiful, loving friend died and a bunch of shitty people are still around. I know life is not fair, but damn it all! I am so sorry, and for her children and family as well.

    I too have had only faint brushings with Death, my maternal grandparents passed away when I was in high school, and they were the first people in my life to do so. Up until then, a carnival fish or two bit the dust, which made no impression upon me at all.

  6. Gina--Thank you for that. Back when I was younger, I used to take out my frustrations by throwing rotten plums and tomatoes from our yard at the back of the garage, as hard as I could, enjoying the resulting splatter on the white boards. Your first paragraph sounds like how I used to feel when I did that.

    I have one of those carnival fish in my backyard pond. It has survived this harsh winter and grown fat, even. Her name is Tina. We're her foster parents, actually. Our back fence neighbor Ricardo asked if we would take her. He leans over and asks how she's doing once in a while.

  7. So very sorry to hear of your colleague's death. It's heart-wrenching under any circumstance, but when it happens to someone so young...

    Like you, I did not have to face any deaths in my immediate family during childhood, and was very unprepared for my father's death. In subsequent years, the loss of my mother, brother, a best friend, and "partner" each affected me in a very unique way. It's hard to explain, but one thing that was common to all of them was the fact that I have never been good at coping with it.

    Your observations in the waiting room are really spot on. I am certain that not a few of my students must have been brought up by similar parenting attitudes. I'm not sure what we can do, either, except to act as surrogate parents when we can. Kind of hard with college students because the effects of such an awful childhood have created some very dysfunctional young adults, but I know they appreciate a kind word and some encouragement when it's possible.

    I love that you describe "Pro-Lifers" as "Anti-Choice." That's really what it's all about. It is especially infuriating that a lot of the people passing absurd laws that put women a century behind modern evolution are old white men who will never, ever be a pregnant single mom who has to work 2 or 3 jobs just to feed and shelter her children, and will likely pass on her bitterness to another generation who will, in turn, follow in her footsteps.

  8. Ortizzle--It's so true, the part about being kind. If I could go back and change anything about my teaching career, that would be it. I would have been much kinder much earlier. Being so young and small and female in a huge urban school, I felt I had to be extra tough to get respect right away. I passed up a lot of opportunities to be kind because I was certain they would equate kindness with weakness. For much of my life, I did as well--my mother was always so kind, generous, and loving, and she was taken advantage of constantly. It wasn't until very recently that I was able to see that the two weren't absolutely bound.

    I'm sorry for all of your loss. That is an awful lot to try to cope with in a relatively short time, and all of them so close to you. They must have felt like physical blows. I honestly cannot imagine.

    I hate to politicize everything, but I read a study today that sorted Americans' beliefs about the poor into republicans and Democrats. Democrats believed that people were poor primarily due to outside influences like the economy. republicans believed that personal failings were the primary reason that the poor were in their situation.

    I'm going out for drinks and dinner with a good friend tonight. I need it. My next post will be sunnier.

  9. The unfairness of it all pisses me off to no end. George Bush is smirking somewhere in Texas, terrorists are terrorizing people, the Taliban is blowing up girls schools, and yet my beloved (and often annoying, to be fair) mother is still dead? It still shocks me sometimes. I mean, I know she's dead. But STILL DEAD? Can't this phase be over now?

    I'm sorry for the loss of your colleague. That sort of things hurts. Even if you don't know them at all, it sometimes hurts like hell. And this person you knew, so of course it sucks even more.

    Those poor kids in the waiting room. Their mothers suck. I'll confess though, that sometimes when I get mad at Maya about something, all of these other things that are bugging me bubble up and I want to spew them all out while I'm angry, rather than ruining another perfectly good moment of the day. It's passive aggressive and I work to not do it. Talk about things as they come up, don't save them. I'm getting better. But I'll confess I've gotten mad at her for not doing her chores or something, and out comes my frustration about SAT prep or whatever. One of my many ugly flaws.

  10. j@jj--No one is perfect, that's for sure, and as parents, I like to think that most of us do the very best we can all the time. The mothers in the dentist's office had no compunction about reaming their kids out in front of other people, loudly; one doing it for entertainment value on purpose, and the other in such a venomous voice that it was heartbreaking.

    It was trashy, pure and simple.

    And I know exactly how you feel regarding your mom. There isn't a single day that goes by that I don't think of my father, and he died fourteen years ago. Typing that number is ridiculous to me because it feels so much more recent. Like you, I want this part to be over.

    I feel like part of Life should be that, one by one, the crappy people die first. The reward for being Good is to be left on Earth with all the other Good people. Again, what a Child I am.

  11. I'm so sorry for the loss of that young life. The juxtaposition of her death and those harridan-mothers is, I don't really have polite words for it. Ugh.

    I remember, when my mom was dying, just being so bemused by the situation. Part of me didn't really believe it was happening & another part just went through the motions in resignation. I always think about her most on Easter because we had her service on Easter 9 years ago. She was adamantly opposed to any kind of viewing whatsoever (& wanted to be cremated) so we didn't have to go through that. We had a Celebration of Life & folks told stories about her & then we ate fried chicken. It felt right - but we'd had a long time to prepare ourselves for it.


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