A few years ago, after a particularly disheartening loss in the ring, Mike Tyson told a New Yorker reporter something that struck me deeply. I wrote about it back when, and began using part of the quote as my signoff on my email account.
"Life is totally about losing everything."
I thought I'd lost a lot back then, in June of 2005. My father had died of a heart attack when I was 21, my older son was in remission from leukemia, my younger son just diagnosed with vasovagal syncope that caused him to drop to the floor, unconscious, eyes still open, his whole body spasming until he came to again. No idea what triggered it. My boys had lost their dad two years earlier, which was far harder on them than me, and I spent a great deal of time trying to figure out the right way to help them mourn someone I couldn't bring myself to miss. Both my grandmothers died within five months of each other that year. My job had deteriorated into a particularly nasty place to be. I was trying to accept that life is like this, that really I was very lucky, that things could be worse. The usual.
Of course things are worse now. I don't cry all the way to work anymore, and I don't know if it's the psychopharmacopia I ingest daily, or if I'm starting to heal. Instead, I see the dead. They lose familiarity as they walk closer, become strangers walking to work instead of my grandmothers, my son, my father. My sister in law. My aunt. I hear my son call me now and then, and can't always find a rational explanation for what I've heard. I ask him to help me find things and there they are.
I can't tell you why this comforts me. My belief in any of this is in the same box with Shrödinger's cat, no paradox to me any more. It just is/n't. I can't tell you why it comforts me to see other mothers mourning their adult sons on the nightly news. I want to call them up and ask them how we do it. Even though part of me knows. The part that doesn't really want to keep walking but does.
I've been through the whole process of mourning before, I know what's happening when I feel it-- anger at everyone but especially whatever God is or isn't and everything human beings say about it, the event horizon of depression shrieking in my bones, the tugging, insistent limbic self that still bleats for my baby somewhere in the middle of my brain. Those fleeting, lucid Archimedean moments where it all makes sense and it's ok that this is how it all happened because this is how it happens, has always happened, and always will happen until the stars die. Knowing where I'm going and more or less where I will end up doesn't make this much easier. Just a little less like chaos. You see me walking to work and you think I'm fine. My family and friends don't see what's happening below the surface. Somewhere in me I am always looking for him and telling myself he is gone. I have mourned him before, as he grew, and grew away from me. Only now there isn't a rational way to reconcile. I understand why the irrational, now. As the months go by I find it harder and harder to explain what it is: how can I be parenting the dead? And yet I am. I just can't tell you how it works.