I'm So Sorry… If There's Anything I Can Do…
This is a long one, that I wrote over several sessions. Bear with me.
Three weeks ago, my mother died suddenly. I loved my mom, so much. Was our relationship perfect? No. Was it complicated? In ways, yes. Do I have opinions as to why or how it happened? Of the fuck course I do.
I got to say goodbye. I got to kiss her forehead and hold her hand. I got to sob at her bedside, apologizing for everything from mortifying her by farting and clearing out a fudge shop at Six Flags in 1996, to not picking up the phone the very last time she called.
(More than one person brought up the infamous fudge shop fart at Mom's wake, by the way. Another story for another time.)
I'm great at being sad. I'm even greater at being angry. Pushing 40 with a bipolar diagnosis and two suicidal episodes under my belt, I fancy myself a frontline mental health warrior. I'm a crisis line volunteer. I have over ten years of therapy under my belt. I don't fuck around.
Grief is nothing like I've ever experienced. It scared me the most, because I almost killed myself without having had a devastating death in my life. How the fuck did I expect to get through something like this? I guess that sounds weird - I've had friends, mentors, and relatives pass… I don't mean to sound callus, but this is one of my parents. I only have two.
My mom loved me unconditionally. Un-con-fucking-ditionally. If I snapped at her for not treating me "adult enough" in front of company - she loved me unconditionally. If I didn't call her for two weeks, then texted her because I needed something - she loved me unconditionally. I could kick down her door, take a dump on her living room floor, and wipe my ass with her Yorkie - she would love me unconditionally (but probably be peeved with the smearing fecal matter on the dog thing, she loved animals.)
There is no fathomable way I will ever be loved like that again. It's impossible. Every relationship I've ever, and will ever, have, will involve another human being who will eventually grow tired of my bullshit. Some will work with me, figure shit out, some will not. I will have to change for everyone, in some respect.
I never had to change for my mom.
I learned a lot about human behavior over the past couple weeks - from myself and others. I've been going through this Five Stages of Grief thing and I think it's a bit of a mislead. If you're unaware with this, I dunno, thing… here's a rundown :
So these fuckers are apparently supposed to happen in order? I call poppycock. I've had ups and downs. I've experienced all of this. I really can say with confidence that these "stages" haven't flowed the way I was lead to believe. It's a clusterfuck of more than one thing happening at once, never in order.
Let's take a look:
Depression is the Bert to my Ernie, so he always rented a room here. I'm sure things will get worse at some point, but I don't need to make space for something that already appears like Barney the Dinosaur 2-3 times a week.
Denial. Um… I watched my mom die. Sorry for the bluntness of that sentence. It was the worst experience of my life. There is no denying that. I've had moments where I've gone to text my mom something, then had the "ah fuck, shit, fuck" moment, but "I can't believe she's gone" doesn't strike me as "denial". I'm aware of the fucking situation.
Which brings me to…
Anger I've always had anger in me, which at times manifested into full-blown rage. While I've been able to cool the monster for the most part (see: my five years as a hotel doorman), I suggest you speak to the booth attendant at the 191 A train station in Manhattan. One minute, I was fine, walking to my train, the next minute I'm full-on screaming at the top of my lungs because this dude neglected to put up a sign telling commuters that the station was closed.
(To be fair… fuck those motherfuckers ((too soon, Chris)). They sit on their asses all day, being rude, watching people do cartwheels over the turnstiles, then have the balls to NOT PUT UP A FUCKING SIGN letting us know that the tracks are flooded. WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK. THEN YOU'RE GOING TO SAY "OHHHHHH WHATAREYADOIN" WHEN I TRY AND SWIPE MY FUCKING CARD?!?! FUCKFACE PUKE PERSON DILDO GARBAGE. MY TAX DOLLARS AND FARE HIKE ARE PAYING YOUR SALARY, YOU FUCKING MUMMY DICK JERK-OFF.)
Anyway, so back to anger.
I sometimes fear that will happen again and the next person won't take so kindly to it. I'm 38 and in the worst shape of my life. I'm not about to get into a fight. Or get arrested.
Then there's this thing:
Bargaining. What is bargaining? Bargaining is when you wish, pray, or hope that your loved one will be saved in exchange for something, usually you changing your behavior.
I did this a lot at her death bed. I did so much apologizing, so much self-flagellation. I expressed so much regret, shame, all of it. I promised her movie stardom if only she could see it. I promised grandchildren if only she could help me raise them. Then she passed and I haven't done it since. Maybe this is more for the pious people. I don't know. I haven't spoken to God. Not in a very long time. It's just… not for me. I respect others who have it in their hearts. I just don't.
Acceptance. How early is too early to accept the death of a loved one? As you've seen here, the common thread is that I watched it happen, so… I don't know… I accepted that it happened?
I've spent the last three weeks trying to make sense of all this. I'm a big believer in understanding what is happening inside my head and in my feelings, so it's my perspective that the largest stage of grief isn't the five that are "supposed" to be happening. It's…
I'm fucking confused. I'm confused that I sobbed like a toddler, literally scream-cried over her the day before, the day of, and the day after she passed. Then the crying had an encore at the wake. Since then, nothing. Not a single tear. (Edit: I just got misty watching a documentary. Whoopie.) I've felt numb, then I've felt angry. Then I've felt manic, like I wanted to just have fun and be social and assure people that I'm "hanging in".
I'm not getting upset about mom stuff on TV, like I thought I would. I'm not triggered by heart attack references. I've been told "you seem so much better than I thought" more times that I can count. Am I a heartless fuck? Did I get all my cries out in one fell swoop?
I still hear my mom's voice, but I can't bring myself to listen to the voicemail I saved from my birthday a couple of years ago, the last one I kept of hers. I still hear my mom screaming "Kill! Kill!" at their little yappy dogs every time I enter my parent's house. I catch myself saying "my dad's house" now, which makes me feel like I'm forgetting about her too quickly. Moving on too fast. Not doing enough mourning.
That's what is most troublesome to me - that I'm not mourning enough.
What is mourning enough? Not going to bed without the assistance of alcohol, so I can stay up all night thinking about her? Taking off an abundant amount of time from teaching and acting, things I love? Putting my life on hold? Not going to social functions, or Mets games? Not taking a vacation?
Just what the fuck am I supposed to be doing?!
I'm playing video games 4-5 hours a day. I'm watching Mets games. I'm showing up for things. I'm turning it "on". I'm so good at being "on". I'm on when I teach, I'm on when I'm on set, I'm on at the bars after shows. I'm an expert and putting "on" the show. The thing is once I'm out of the "on" zone, I never turn it off. I just stay "fine". It kills me that I don't have those reflective moments when I actually FEEL things. I haven't felt anything since the wake. I'm just… doing things. I'm in a good mood, most of the time.
UPDATE: A day has passed and this is the third time I've sat down to write on this post. Depression is in motherfucking session. Another death in my life - a drama teacher from my high school. I was too scared to get up and do anything back then, so she really never got a chance to help me find myself because, well, she wasn't a mind-reader.
So, to recap, in the month of July, I have lost:
An acting teacher and mentor.
The GM of the hotel where I doormanned.
High School drama teacher.
The star of my all-time favorite movie (Ray Liotta, for the kids keeping score.)
Not to mention, my partner just lost a childhood friend. I have never had any point in my life where I've been surrounded by this much death. I'm in a fucking funhouse of mortality. I'm fucking tired of this shit. Literally tired. Exhausted. I stayed up till sunrise, drinking and smoking weed and watching every self-tape audition I had saved on my phone (still a good actor). I've tried to nap after only being awake for an hour. I have to teach tonight, so at some point, I'm going to have to start my engine. And I will. I'll teach a great class tonight.
But, like… what the fuck, man.
Okay, now that we're aboard the scatterbrain express, I have some thoughts as to what to do and not to do when someone loses a loved one:
If you feel the need to ask how someone died, receive the answer… then shut the fuck up. FULL STOP. You are not a doctor. You are not welcome to analyze said dead person's lifestyle choices. You are not there to tell me about questionable decisions they made. I am not there to help give you closure about your relationship with them. You are not there to gossip about my dead mother to my face. You are there to give me a hug and say, "if you need anything, you call me." And there is an almost zero probability that I will take you up on that, so have no fear.
The IS such a thing as performative support. And it's gross.
Food and cash is always welcomed.
I dunno, guys, I miss my mom.
Okay, one more list. Here's what helped me greatly in the days leading up to, and after her death:
I reached out to friends who have lost a parent, particularly the ones who lost one suddenly. There is a wisdom and comfort there that is invaluable. We hire coaches and teachers who are experienced in their fields for a reason, right? Find those people in your life who have gone through it. It's a little less scary when you have an idea of what to expect.
Have one "I NEED TO FUCKING VENT" point person. In this case, it was one of my aunts. She said the words "if you need to just let out some anger, call me anytime." I took her up on it and I cannot tell you how happy I did. Anytime someone said something stupid, or played doctor with me, or something got under my skin, I called. (YOU'RE NOT GONNA BELIEVE THIS BLEEEEEEEP AND A BLEEEEEEP THIS BLEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP).
Don't get hung up on the ones who didn't reach out or show up. There will be people whose silence will let you down. Instead, be grateful for the kid you hung around with on the playground, whom you haven't spoken to in 20 years, who travels a distance to pay their respects. Replacing bitterness with gratitude is the healthy choice, every time.
UPDATE: I taught a great class last night, and another dynamite one this afternoon. My students and my classes are one of my saving graces.
I turn 38 tomorrow. This month of July sucks balls. I hate that my birthday landed in the midst of this filth.
Yeah, that's all I got for now. I love you, Mom.