Monday, July 17, 2006

The only thing different is the way I feel about you

I have more things to say about the movies I reviewed in my last post- The Celebration and The Constant Gardener. My posts tend to be a little on the long side, so I stopped writing after a couple pages. Thanks for reading these! Tonight I went to a Survivors of Suicide (SOS) meeting, and I am thinking about the strange, not often talked about relationship one negotiates with someone who has died. Having a relationship with the dead? Does that sound crazy? Actually, you do continue to have a relationship with someone you are close to after they die. How does that work, exactly?

It is common to hear about people going to the cemetery to talk to someone's grave, or writing letters they cannot send. For someone lucky enough to have never lost a loved one, or even some people who have, it may seem like this type of behavior is at best an imaginative form of therapy, or at worst a form of denial, an unhealthy inability to move on with your life. There seems to be an expectation that healthy people will get over it and move on from the death of someone they are close to.

I cannot speak for everyone, especially since grief counseling always emphasizes the fact that people have to deal with death in their own way and in their own time, but regardless, I can still say with confidence that it is wrong to expect someone to get over it. When someone is an important part of your life, means something to you, when you have feelings about them, a connection (even if you are angry at them or have mixed feelings about them), their death creates a void in your life. They may be dead, but you are still alive. You continue to feel things, think about them, and have memories of them. The dead are "no longer with us" in the living, breathing kind of way, but yet everything we shared with them is still with us, and the connection to them remains.

This connection is very frustrating. The dead are notoriously unresponsive. One can cry and scream and beg, and still the dream in which they are talking back to you, explaining why it happened, apologizing for ditching out on you, and reassuring you that they are in a better place, never comes. You ask for a sign; you get nothing, or if you do, it is confusing, cryptic, and just not enough. You took for granted the sound of their voice, the things they said, just being around them, and suddenly, you will never experience those things again. Your whole life changes in an instant. It will never be what it was. Not only is the person gone, but the life you had when they were alive is gone as well.

Then you have to deal with it. Your own life now seems unfamiliar to you. You cannot think about the world in the same way anymore.

In The Celebration, Christian deals with his sister's suicide by standing up to their father. He probably would not have confronted him if his sister had not taken her life, but exposing how his father abused both of them puts something right in his life. I can relate to that. My brother defied our dad when he killed himself, with my dad's gun. He stood up to him. I wish he would have done it in a different way, but he did do it. When I stood up to my dad, it put something right in my life and in my relationship with Jeff. It aligned us. When Jeff died, it ruptured my connection to him. He was such an important part of my life that it ruptured my connection with me as well. I felt groundless, without purpose, lost.

My life was like a big house, with lots of rooms and lots of stuff. It was comfortable and safe; I covered the windows and avoided thinking about what was outside. I hid in that house, with its comforting distractions, until a phone call came early one morning. Then the house burned to the ground. All I had left was ashes- even the land the house was on burned away to nothing, so that all I could see around me was destroyed. I felt hollow, empty, dead inside. Numb. My life felt meaningless. I did not know who I was anymore.

Eventually I had to find myself so that I did not continue to sleepwalk through my life. That meant letting my suppressed memories back into my consciousness. These memories helped me piece my life together, and my memories of Jeff, rather than explaining his death, explained the childhood that we shared. I saw that for me to make it right, I had to confront the truth about our family. There were little signs, glimpses along the way, but by in large, what transformed my life was the connection I still felt to Jeff, entirely based on the love and respect I feel for him and my memories of him when he was alive. He is physically gone, but he is still with me.

The Constant Gardener has a haunting way of showing how someone's memories can shape their present reality. Justin is driven to find the truth about his wife's murder, but not by his reason or intellect. He does not say to himself, "gee, what happened to Tessa was wrong. I should do something about that." His memories of her give him clues about what she was doing that got her on a hit list, but his memories are not specifically for informational purposes. They are emotional experiences that push him forward, motivating him. His subconscious takes over. What is hidden needs only a small opening to come rushing out.

What I am trying to say is that death dislodges memories and feelings that are stored or stuffed into our subconscious. The person who died leaves a void, the size of their importance in our life, and our feelings and memories flow into that space. Things that were far away in our mind force their way into the forefront. They may be only tangentially related to the person, but suddenly they are very difficult to avoid. This person, this dead person, is influencing your life in ways you never imagined. You do not move on from that. You evolve.

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