27 January 2011

Thinking about life and death

I don't normally read short stories, but I was reading Anthony Doerr's collection titled Memory Wall recently and one phrase stuck with me. The story surrounding the phrase was about a Holocaust survivor getting to the end of her life. She talked about dying three different deaths, the third death being: "...everyone who knew us when we were children has died. And when the last one of them dies, we finally die." I heard something resonate inside me but it was too distant to grab onto at the time.

Then one day I was at work sifting cocoa and letting my mind go off in whatever direction it chose when I was struck by a thought so deafening it stopped me in my tracks. It occurred to me that it's possible that when I die there will be...nothing. No consciousness, no afterlife, no spirit to watch my boys live their lives, nothing. And then I thought, if there is nothing then where do I go? Does it mean that I just...end? That I will have no more thoughts or feelings?

This nothingness disturbed me on a few levels. First because I had always assumed I'd get a second chance at stuff. Want to be a cheerleader? Maybe my next time around, thanks. How about taking a risk and moving across the country? Hmmm, not this time. Or how about choosing a better man to have kids with? Yeah, something for the next time. But there is no next time. I won't get another chance at living my life as me. And I think I knew that intellectually, but I didn't wholly accept that concept until I was struck motionless at work.

Second is the idea that because of the way my mom treated me and my sisters, I would like there to be nothing for my mom now that she's dead. No haunting, no hanging around, no spirit watching over me, just nothing. I want that partly because I feel a fair bit of remorse for not being a good enough daughter, that I didn't try to strengthen our relationship, that I didn't do anything to really make my mom feel welcome or loved throughout her life. I know in my head that I did the best I could with her and that she was an extremely difficult person. But somehow my mind keeps romanticizing her and turning the guilt onto me for not being 'enough' instead of turning it on her for not being more accepting and loving. If there is nothing after death then I feel like I can set her down and stop carrying her around as my personal Burden Backpack. But then, if there is nothing after death for my mom...then there is nothing after death for me too. And that idea really bothers me.

Thirdly, when my dad died I had a dream of helping him across the river. He was content to be going there and I felt immense relief because of that. I think that I was thinking my dad's soul moved to whatever is next after our time here on Earth. That maybe he would live a different life where he was loved more and had more opportunities for happiness. I felt secure and comfortable in the thought that his spirit exists somewhere and is free of pain. I also thought that when I die my spirit or soul will move on to the next chapter, maybe even remember the lessons I learned during this life. But if I feel like if there's an afterlife for my dad...then there must be one for my mom. And I don't want her to live on in a different way. I feel like she'll come and do her best to make me feel bad at every available opportunity. And I think that I don't feel she deserves to be free of her pain as she caused so much pain and needs to be accountable for doing that. But she killed herself and removed herself from all accountability and that is maddeningly frustrating.

So in order to continue believing that my soul will go to the next level or chapter after Earth, I feel like I must accept that my mom's soul has done the same. And deal with the resentment I have over her being selfish and mean and getting a 'do over' of sorts. And deal with the guilt from feeling resentment because honestly, she wasn't all bad all the time. She did love me as much as she could...I guess she wasn't 'enough' for me and who am I to judge? If I get to judge my mom by her actions and not her intentions, then my boys get to judge me by the same measuring stick. If I am allowed some latitude in making mistakes with child rearing then so is my mom and every other mother out there.

The glimmer of an idea that is starting to form is that while my mom's soul might have been good, the body she was given was flawed. Her brain chemistry created a difficult universe for her soul to inhabit. I've always believed that we live a symbiotic life, that our souls are given a body in order to experience life on Earth. Now I see that there is no guarantee of that body being ideal physically or mentally.

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