Category Archives: death

What if?

Huh. I have had the most interesting evening. I do not know what triggered this thought, but here’s what hit me–

What if I had never met Siri?

For the uninitiated, Siri is Siri Aarons. She was a remarkable woman, and for a part of her life, she and I were married. She died in April of 2003 due to complications associated with Ovarian Cancer, and most of my life since then has been a response to or denial of her death.

I was watching an episode of the television show Castle tonight on Hulu.com. (Yes, I am watching TV again. Sort of. I don’t have a television, yet the habit is seemingly with me again. There are a few programs I have grown fond of: House, Castle, and The Office. I am apparently the last person on Planet Earth to have discovered House; I read recently that it is the most popular television program in the world. House has a very simple format yet it is about a very complicated man. This is also the first medical drama I have been able to watch with any regularity since Siri’s death.)

You know, that was such a lengthy parenthetical remark, I figure it’s best to break out of ( ) and just write.

Back to Castle. It’s entertaining yet sort of shallow. I enjoy the banter and the quips, and I am annoyed with the creative team behind the show because they seem unwilling to dive deep. Both of the main characters, Detective Kate Beckett and Rick Castle, in large part due to the talents of actors Stana Katic and Nathan Fillion, come across as people I want to know more about. As I think about it, I realize that maybe, just maybe, the slickness and surface qualities of the show are a clever ruse by the creator, Andrew Marlowe. He might just be sucking in a mainstream audience only to take them on a rich emotional journey once we’ve all become entranced by the charms of Beckett and Castle. And charms there are many. (There’s also a passing similarity to Scully and Mulder of The X-Files. I learned later that Rob Bowman of X-Files fame works on Castle.)

There’s also something about Castle and House that I noticed this evening: both programs feature beautiful female actors portraying strong women with physical features that–well, I noticed tonight they both sort of look or behave like Siri. A lot of it is in the little details. The end result, however, is this: my memory was stirred. Well, maybe not stirred. Perhaps the word I want is provoked.

And then it happened. A stray and random drive-by thought penetrated my skull and spread my brain wide open.

What if I had never met Siri?

Through all the ache and tears and grief and misguided attempts to “move on,” not once did I ever wish that I had never met her.

What if I had never met Siri?

The conclusion I came to almost immediately was this: I never would have come to this place in my life if I had never met her. Now, I cannot possibly be expected to answer that question tonight.  Not tonight, but soon–I will answer it, or at the very least, I will respond to how it makes me feel. I will do that soon

The curious thing about posing that question is that it might suggest I think I would be better off if I had never met her, that I would be happier or more well-adjusted than I am now because I never would have lost her and suffered all the woe that accompanied her death. (I am not sure one can ever be prepared for the death of a loved one, and I am not clear about how it is for others who have been present for that death, but let me tell you that her death turned me inside out. I simply was not ready for her to die. )

Here is where I need to stop. I feel completely incapable of saying one more intelligent thing about anything at all at this moment. That might be because I have dug a little too deep. Please note that you haven’t seen any of the real digging I have been doing. This entry is like an episode of Castle in the way I have barely skimmed the surface. This entry is a reminder to me that there are things I need to feel still. And primarily–I think–this is a reminder from me for me to remember to remember.

Oh, one more thing. I am happy I am here. Here right here. No where else, no one else, no when else.

I don’t have any fantasies that the above will make any sense to anyone but me. And that’s fine. The riddle I might be solving is one of my own creation.

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Death by Installment: 1. Cold and Stiff

I will never forget the way my father felt when I touched him at his funeral. He was stiff and cold. He was lifeless. This should not have come as a surprise. My dad was dead. I knew this. Yet when I kissed his forehead, he was thick and heavy like a statue.

I had touched a dead person before this night. When a new community college opened very close to my family home when I was in my early teens, my family took a tour during the Open House. One part of the tour that fascinated me was the medical area, and therein lay cadavers. The guide explained that most of the bodies that were donated to the school for study were John and Jane Does. People who were nameless and claim-less. This made me think hard about who these people really were. They showed us one body that had already been carved up, the flaps of skins back where they belonged but incisions clear to the eye. This old guy with white hair was dead, and I had a morbid compulsion to touch him, so I did. He felt like stiff chicken skin. His white thinning hair and wrinkles showed him to be a man in his 50s. He was dead.

My dad was dead and felt like the dead John Doe. Less rubbery though. It was almost impossible to reconcile this body as my father, until I rubbed his head. My dad had a crew cut for 30 years from the time he served in the US Army in the 50s. He had two crowns on his head, and until he received his first military-issue buzz cut, he had a terrible time with cowlicks. 30 years of crew cut makes each hair on a person’s head very thick, like hair brush bristles. So my dad would joke when kids saw his hair, “Head rubs for a quarter” because everyone seemed to want to rub his crazy hairbrush-like hair.

So I rubbed the hair on his head as he lay out in the funeral parlor, and finally he felt like my father. Yet I remember very clearly next laying my hand on his chest and being upset by the absolutely lifeless quality of his body. No pulse. No breathing. Nothing. Dead.

My son was six months old at the time of my father’s death. I never got the chance to explain to my dad that I “got it” as in–

Dad, I get it now. I understand why you worked so hard and cared so much and were crabby sometimes and goofy others, why you just wanted to be with your kids, and how it must have hurt you so deeply when I treated you like an embarrassment, like a weirdo. Jeez, dad, you were just doing your best. And it didn’t help matters one bit that you and I were so fucking similar. We clashed mightily, you and I. And you hit me, and I wanted to hurt you, and I cursed you, and you lost your patience with me on many occasions, and I could only acknowledge after you died that you just did your best. Maybe it wasn’t perfect, but you did what you knew. You were a good man, dad. I never let you know that. You were a better dad to me than I probably deserved considering the way I treated you. And I probably had trouble getting over your death because I never appreciated you while you were living. Not toward the end anyway. Sure, when I was little, at an age I cannot recall the events of my life, I must have treated you well. But as I grew up I gave you nothing but shit, dad. And I apologize for that. For I didn’t know any better. You passed your horrible temper on to me. And the bruises you left on me sank deep into me, dad, and colored everything after with that ugly green-yellow-purple stain.

I had trouble letting things go. I have trouble letting things go. It took me years–years–to forgive you, dad, because you scared me and generally made me hate living in our house. I wanted to run away so many times, and not the way I usually did, when I stormed out screaming “I’M NEVER COMING BACK!!!” and then showing up three hours later and going straight to my room and slamming the bedroom door shut, the room I shared with my younger brother.

Enough of this. There’s more to say later about my inability to let things go. More to say about my dad and about what a terror I was as a child. But for now, I just wanted to say that my dad was not the first dead person I touched, but he was the first dead person I touched who I knew. Yet I barely knew him.

[Note: I decided to post this finally more than a month after writing it. I probably won’t do any more in this series, but at least I wanted to mention that my dad’s name was Dean Matthew Caldwell and he was born on August 8, 1933 and he died on October 24, 1986.  TC, Feb 13, 09]

[Update: A friend pointed out that I entered my own birthdate for my dad’s. Ha. It’s corrected. I’m sure Dr. Freud would have something to say on the matter. TC Feb 27, 09]

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Death By Installment: Introduction

People die. They do. Everyone dies. We’re born, we live a life, and then it ends-we die. Everything ends.

So why is it that one life–one death–is sometimes insurmountable? What happens? Is it that a connection is made that tethers us to the dead, and release will not be given? Is it that we are weak and can’t let go? Is it that we suffered a trauma that needs attention so that we might recover from the death of a loved one?

This isn’t an adolescent rumination on Death. I’m just trying to come to terms with my own particular case. I need to go out and be productive right now, so I’ll need to do this in installments. The impulse to write about this came from seeing two films over the last three days: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Seven Pounds. These two films are different in many ways. One similarity they share is the effect they had on me as I sat in the theater; at one point, I wanted to get up and leave.

I was writing in my journal on the train ride home after seeing Seven Pounds yesterday. It occurred to me that I never sought the sort of help that might have helped me get past some of the grief issues related to my wife Siri’s death. It occurred to me that maybe I suffered some sort of (I choke on the use of this word) trauma from the experience of seeing her through her last days and having her die at my side. I did not do well toward the end, and the year following her death was a lost year. I lost myself.

I understand this might all be very cryptic. Many biographical details need to be provided. I will get to that soon. But now I need to go feed a friend’s cats, and I need to start packing my apartment for moving on December 30. So I will write this by installment. I need to promise myself that I will go forward with this. I also need to make sure I call that therapist on Monday. It’ll be good to talk some of this stuff through. Maybe he’ll put me in touch with someone who does grief counseling.

One thing I know is this: when mediocre films like Seven Pounds find a way to upset me by recalling my past, there must really be something wrong with me. Or…there is always the possibility that what I am feeling is normal…is it that I won’t or can’t let myself feel true sadness? Is it that I skirt around it and feel morose and miserable but never let myself be pulled all the way in, because I am afraid of never coming back out of it?

One other thing: an internet amiga wrote this on Twitter.

Come back to town Peter Falk! I want a sketch of you, BY you. peterfalk.com for $100? That’s a steal!!1!

And this was my reply.

“Come Back To Town, Peter Falk!” That sounds like a play title…who’s writing it? (Maybe me…)

The subjects that came to mind were memory and regret. The News reported recently that Mr. Falk is suffering from Alzheimer’s. I adore his acting work and was saddened by this news. I wonder sometimes if memory is not my nemesis when it comes to getting past Siri’s death. And then right now writing this I realize what a crock of shit that is. It’s such a lame excuse. My nemesis is me.

One last thing: the Kübler-Ross model of the five stages of grief. Remember that. Work through those. Get some help with it. And then just deal with it. It’s not that I haven’t gotten on with my life. It’s that I am living a second life while that first one has been left to rot. There is little connection between the Tim of Then and the Tim of Now. Except for the ache. And that is doing no one any good. They say that pain is a warning sign. When am I going to heed the warning sign?

Oh, and maybe I can also acknowledge my own experiences with death and illness.

At the root of it all is a fundamental lack of compassion by me for me. It’s an old problem.


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