December 31, 2023

Life and Loss

Existential musings on an introspective year of mourning.

Life and Loss

December 31, 2023

I have been checked out for awhile …

A little over a year ago, in 2022, I lost my mother. Ten months before that, I lost my father. And nine months prior to that, I spent a week helping to care for my bedridden uncle until he passed. In the midst of all that, we lost two dogs, and even our favorite sheep. 2022 was a particularly shitty year.

We've all heard stories of folks who never truly recover from losing a parent, a sibling, a spouse, or really anyone of importance in their lives. I never really grasped that until now. In the past, I thought, Sure, it's all very devastating. but eventually after such a loss you move on while still honoring their memory. Right? You mourn, then you pick yourself up in short order and move on. You don't lay in bed in a fetal position and stop your life for months, even years, on end. I mean, I lost grandparents. I lost pets. I got it. Right?

Well. Okay. No, I didn't get it. But now I think I do.

My father's passing in January of 2022 crushed me. But not debilitatingly so. That period of mourning really began years prior. We saw his end creeping up on us. His health was slowly failing, like a ship sinking. Even he had enough time to make peace with it. Well, mostly. When the time came, it came suddenly. Sudden, but not surprising.

We mourned his death. But then all of our attention fell onto our mother. She just lost her partner in life and fell into a substantial depression, additionally burdened by her own manifesting dementia. We wore the black veil for our father, but then got busy positioning my mother so that she could live out her life with a robust support system. We planned a life for her where she would live with each of her three kids, rotating between their households. Adjustments had to be made both physically (our downstairs master needed to be refurbished, for example) and socially/psychologically: My wife and I (and my siblings and their spouses) looked forward to a more intimate caretaker relationship with my mother, but she was not at all psychologically ready to upend the routines of her life in Pennsylvania. We benefited from the best parents one could hope for. Now it was time to be the best care-taking children as possible.

After my father passed, I stayed with my mother for a month and prepped her for her new nomadic lifestyle. I also dealt with creditors, financial folks, lawyers, contractors, etc. etc. Fifty years of paperwork scattered about her house took a month alone to wrestle into comprehension. Following that, she spent time with us in North Carolina and then at her vacation home in South Carolina. Next my sister whisked her away to live with her for a bit. Then finally, after a month or two, she flew all the way to Tokyo Japan to live for a time with my brother. Mom began to warm up to this idea of spending her remaining years with children and grandchildren.

Then on November 14, 2022 in Tokyo, Japan, out of the clear blue sky, a meteor of sorts smashed through the atmosphere and struck with no warning.

My mother, whose only substantial ailments were cognitive, suffered heart failure due to an aorta dissection, a relatively rare health event. For whatever reason, in one small location, the lining of her aorta gave out. Her blood pressure plummeted. She fell unconscious. And two hours later her heart stopped. The talented Japanese doctors were powerless to stop the inevitable. Here one day, gone the next. A meteor indeed. My mother was 81.

The siblings rallied. We clung to each other like never before. Our spouses and the next generation of the family attempted to help as best they could. Though, as we all quickly discovered, you can share in your grief, but in the end, grief is something truly experienced alone.

Everything in my life stopped. Her death was a blow so unexpected that it knocked me back onto my heels. I was an emotional wreck. And as one does, I reexamined my own place in this world, the fragility of life, and the inherent meaninglessness of it all.

Outwardly, I acknowledged the kind words of friends and family, but I pretty much shoved everyone away for a time. Folks wanted to visit, and my wife, Monica, kindly told them to please … not right now. I can't imagine what folks do who don't have an immediate support system.

My routine took a nosedive. I sometimes wonder, If I were still working a 9-to-5, would I have adjusted better? I don't know. As a part time real estate agent (and a spouse working full time), I had the freedom to clear off all of my obligations for months. Even things I enjoyed, like writing, took a hiatus. Journaling, something I did almost religiously, stopped all-together. This blog went silent.

Life stopped. Or, at least, geared down.

After a few months, I tentatively stuck my nose out of the hole I constructed for myself. I picked up a few real estate clients and resumed writing and editing again. I continued plugging away at my novel, finished a short story, and wrote a poem or two. My poetry went down a dark and introspective path, as one could probably imagine, but it also helped me peer into the dark void representing my grief and see a glimmer of light. Metaphors abound. At one time left adrift, I then started to get my footing and find a direction again. In fact, after I post this entry, I will post a poem I wrote during that period that shares that precise title.

So, why am I writing this?

I suppose this post boils down to a "So, what did you do last summer, Mr. Warner?" exercise. I resumed engagement with the planet some time ago, but a dark cloud still lingers. It's easy to say, "Hey, count your blessings. You still have your health, your marriage, your siblings, financial stability, your community." It's not like I suffer with the burdens so many others do, like abject poverty, living in a war zone or under the thumb of oppression, or, or … While I recognize all that, losing a person who anchors your life is, for lack of better terms, incredibly devastating and disorienting, no matter your circumstance.

So, today, I live a life a bit more soberly. I wonder if that is the true mark of the middle years—coming to grasp with just how short life truly is. And the fact that in a mere two generations, we are all eventually forgotten. I've come to terms with my mortality and long-term insignificance long ago. but my mortality. Coming to terms with the loss of those most significant to me … Their loss presented an existential challenge for which I was utterly unprepared.

Wrestling with the death of someone so near and dear is something we all eventually experience. Last year, it was simply my turn in the form of the loss of my parents. Plus, it's a path all of us must eventually travel. That is, someday in the future, I too will travel that path to oblivion, the only mark left behind being the impact I have had on those who I have touched in one way or another along the way. And today at least, I am okay with that.

A post in honor of my father:
A post in honor of my mother:

Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash

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