Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Letter to My Uncle Concerning His Death

Dear Nathan,

I spend so much time trying to parse the phenomenon of death. I research, analyze, ponder, and philosophize about it constantly. I look at pictures, watch movies, even listen to recordings of the event to try and desensitize myself to the idea; to boil it down to the pure logical truth of it.

The result of all this work? When you died last April, I felt nothing. Nothing that I would associate with any kind of appropriate feelings anyway. I did feel incredibly sad, but, that was really just for everyone else that was so upset because they DO feel loss.

Frankly, for me, the funeral was mostly just surreal. To be surrounded in so much pain, and not to be able to be a part of it was bewildering to me. Even my wife teared up. You could count the number of times you two spoke to one another on one hand, but she made the connection. She felt that sense of loss. I just felt like a horse's ass through the whole ceremony.

And that's the feeling that stays with me. That feeling of complete guilt and inhumanity. Feelings of being a statue, or a troll. All of them completely internal, and unbelievably selfish.

Everything about your death just frightened me, terribly. The suddenness of it was almost comical. After all of my own self preparations, all that flinching for the inevitable. After I've braced myself for impact, you're the one who dies. You who, although wasn't oblivious to the idea of oblivion, couldn't have been putting the same time and effort into obsessing over it, as I was. I flinched, but you got hit. Like when Elmer Fudd points his gun at Bugs Bunny, but Daffy Duck is the one who gets shot.

I try to go back mentally. Back before the funeral. Back to some memory of you before I started my long, slow attempt to purge myself of my preoccupation with death. Some time when I might have felt something for that final, bitter end of a member of my blood family. The best I can do right now is just examine it.

I remember you being the one that taught me to take a step and lean into swinging a baseball bat, almost the same as when I pitched, to get the distance I was looking for with our wiffle ball set. I remember one Christmas, after I had already recoiled my personality from my family, that you bought me a Star Wars Xbox game, and I was blown away with how spot on appropriate it was. I remember you showing me how to carve a turkey. I remember how I always felt a weird connection with you because you grew up with three sisters, and I grew up with a sister and four female cousins. And now Luke, your grandson, is growing up with a sister and four female cousins. You made it seem OK to enjoy being surrounded by women. To keep it from being emasculating. Sometimes even turning it into the exact opposite.

I think about how you died. I replay the few details I got from my mother over and over again in my head. Contract handyman. Bad economy. Foreclosure. Moving furniture all day. Heart attack from the stress. I repeat them in my head like a mantra. Good man. Bad luck. Severe consequence. Attempt to move on. Final, undeserved cost. Everything, all the facts, are completely understood, but, the sorrow, the important part, is completely absent.

I tell myself the regular things, like, it hasn't sunk in yet (even though it's been, what, a year now?). Or, I tell myself that I just hadn't kept up with you as I became an adult. You didn't live near me, so, I hadn't seen you a lot for the last few years. But, I saw you more than some other people in my family. My dad being an example. But that logic leads to even worse lines of thinking.

Late at night these excuses for a lack of basic human empathy just spawn more thoughts that prove that lack, and deepen my shame. Things like, "why SHOULD I even feel anything? It's not like my mom died, or someone that was real close." Thoughts like that don't exactly bring up the sorrow I crave to feel, but they do shock and depress me, and make me nauseated at myself. And, that's the closest I can get to grief, so I hold onto them. Deciding that SOME kind of horror, even as a result of my own cruel nature, should be attached to this event that should evoke horror in me. I decide that I need to keep that horror. I use it as a perverse place holder made up of some generic, bargain brand "sad" until I can save up enough to get the real thing.

You can't imagine the frustration of sitting in bed, staring at my dresser for, some nights, hours trying to identify ANY kind of grief and sorrow as I contemplate your passing. I sit there, and eventually just realize that the only thing that bubbles to the surface is that you DID die. That someone, anyone, died. That we all die, and that means me too. In the dark, alone, I try to feel sorry for you, and I only end up feeling sorry for myself.

Well, I take that back. There is another thing that bubbles up. An odd feeling of dread and responsibility for what happened to you. You see, I like to come up with stories that hover around death. Stories you never got to read or even knew I wrote, but, they're there. The only problem is I always felt like kind of a fraud, writing about something that I essentially didn't know about. The stories were just big coping mechanisms for an unknown fear. I always wished I knew more about what I was talking about; be more experienced so it would feel more genuine. It was hard to sit at the funeral, surrounded by so much hurt, and not think that I had had a part in your demise.

I don't believe in fate. I don't believe in karma, as a supernatural force. I don't believe in granted wishes. But when you think something, something specific, and awful, and then it happens, it's hard not to feel like you hit the cue ball on that one. I leaned back in a pew, my arm around whoever happened to be crying at the time, and thought, "good job, asshole."

So, sorry for that, if it turns out all that magic shit exists. But, if it does, then you might be fine anyway. Either way, it's probably not worth giving it any more thought than I already have. Of course that won't really stop me.

No, the only thing that will stop the irrational guilt, or rational, depending, is time and just forgetting about it. Just letting the bad feelings get diluted with the passage of the seasons and the years piling up between your funeral and where I am at that moment. But, of course that means letting the good memories dilute too. The baseballs, the turkeys, the Christmases, the home improvement advice, the debates about military aircraft. It will all go away, because there's nothing I can do about it. Even if I tried hard to solidify them, eventually they'll all be shut off by the same end as yours.

So, guilty or not, shit head or not, cosmically responsible or not, it's still a shitty situation, but not for the reasons I wished it was. It's just my inability to care, again. My philosophy designed to lessen the pains of the world worked too well, and now I'm just standing here, kind of a shell. The worst part is I didn't even learn anything. I didn't even get the jolt of experience I had wished for. It's like my horse came in but I lost my betting slip.

Jesus, maybe I should just start putting change in a jar when I think of shit like that.

Chiggie Von Richthofen
All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.

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