Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Four Years Later

This is a non-fiction piece that I wrote for my senior seminar, Writing as Resistance. In class we read Suheir Hammad's poem, First Writing Since—the first writing she did after September 11, 2001; her reaction to it. Our written response was supposed to express a way in which we are broken.

I had the idea for this—really, the inspiration, if you want to call it that, since it's not fiction—quite some time ago. About four years ago, actually. But I shoved it aside. I knew it was worth writing, but I didn't want to write it.

Then, in 2009, it came again. The same sensation, the same realization. And I thought, "I should write this. It means something. I needs to be written."

But I couldn't. It was still too hard.

Then I started this class. The first day. The first assignment. Four years later, it was time. I don't know what to title it. I don't know what fits it yet, or if I ever will. Or if it will move anyone but me; they're my thoughts, emotions, and fears, after all.

Still, it was worth finally writing, and it's worth finally sharing. For whatever it's worth.

I don't know why, but I feel like it's important—or at least relevant—to mention that while I wrote this, I listened to "After the Storm," by Mumford & Sons, on perpetual repeat. Somehow it just evoked the right emotion in me, one that really married how I felt when I first had the urge to write this and how I needed to feel to actually write it. Either way, I feel since I listened to it while writing this piece, if you wanted companion music for it, I'd recommend that song.

When you’re little, there is no death. Death is just one of those things that we learn about as we go. My first experience with death that I really remember was the death of my granddad. But for some reason, his isn’t the death that broke something in me. Really, there were two deaths—both recent—that caused the break. 

The first was my grandpa’s, my mother’s dad. Strangely enough, it wasn’t his passing that caused such a change in me; it was seeing my mom. Seeing how hard it was for her. At the end of his funeral, we all rose to walk past the coffin and pay our final respects. As I stood in line behind my parents, behind my mother and her three siblings, I was struck by how small she looked. She leaned over my grandpa’s coffin—the final goodbye. As I watched, I realized that I wasn’t looking at my mother, not as I knew her. I was looking at a little girl saying goodbye to her daddy for the last time. A small, heartbroken little girl. It was a shock to me because I had never seen her like that. For some reason it hadn’t occurred to me until that moment that the loss of my grandpa was not the same as her losing her father. Though they were the same man, our sense of loss was very different.

The second death was the death of my grandmother, my dad’s mother. My whole life, I had known her as Super Granny. A great moniker for an extraordinary woman. Her death was very unexpected. Though she was in her mid-eighties, she was in good health. On one of my dad’s frequent trips to her house to check on her, he found her in bed, as if merely sleeping. Again I was shaken by the sensation that I wasn’t watching my father handle things, that I wasn’t comforting and hugging my father, but rather that I was trying to console a little boy who couldn’t quite believe that he really wouldn’t ever see his mommy again.

These two deaths caused something inside me to change, to see things differently. It was like a last veil had been lifted—the image of my parents as indestructible, the same image many children have of their parents when they’re young, gone. I began to realize that my parents are next in line, morbid as it sounds. The older generations are nearly gone. Time is, indeed, marching on—no matter how much I wish it would stop. Shortly after my grandmother’s funeral, my dad was trying to describe to me how it felt having both parents gone. Both of my parents have now lost both of their parents, and my dad described it like being orphaned. I realized then that planning, growing up, preparing—none of those things are foolproof. No matter how old you get, there are some things you’ll never be able to prepare for. 

Since these experiences and the subsequent conversations, there’s a new kind of sadness in me. Not a weeping, overwhelming sadness, but one that comes with the realization that one day I’ll lose my parents, too. No matter how old I am, I’ll be jolted back to childhood, to feeling lost and scared with no more mom or dad to turn to. And no matter when it happens, I won’t be ready for it. 


Ben Burleigh said...

This post is very real, very human. Having lost 4 good friends (all of whom were under the age of 21) and a family member, I'm no stranger to the feeling of unbalanced disbelief and thought wrecking emotions that death leaves in place of those we love.

I can certainly appreciate this post.

Katie Pierce said...

Sarah, having lost siblings, friends,and other loved ones including my parents, I can tell you what your father said is truth. We do feel orphaned-no better way to describe it. Regardless of how good or bad the relationship or closeness thereof, most everyone will someday deal with being orphaned. It is one of life's strangest fellings. Well written.

Sarah said...

@Ben—Thank you, Ben. I appreciate that. Death is just one of those things that numbs with time, but never really heals completely. Every now and then, a pang of hurt will come and catch me off guard.

@Katie—I can only imagine feeling that way. I don't look forward to the day that it happens to me, too, but I think you're right; even if the relationship is strained, there still must be a very strange feeling knowing they're gone. Thank you for the comment, and for reading this.

Bitneez said...

I lost my Aunt this week and I experienced exactly what you wrote. She was like a second mother to me, and with her gone I felt like a piece of me will always be gone. However, watching the pain in my grandmother and grandfathers eyes as they buried their youngest, watching her daughters as they prepared to face life motherless(neither one are over the age of 24) I felt the same shock. I realized this week that I am not a little kid anymore..that I must do the consoling now...and the consoling is for a much bigger wound that a skinned knee. I realized also that she is the first of many in my family. Her death has forever changed me. I will miss her in a way that words can never explain.
Your piece really touched me.

Anonymous said...

Death is the weirdest thing. It is impossible for me to get that those people, who I loved and who touched me deeply, just isn't here anymore. I tend to feel as if they are just on a long vacation. I see my grandpa in every old man walking with a cane and my young cousin in every boy with glasses and a beanie.
Anyhow, you really touched me. This is the reason I keep coming back to your blog.