Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Twenty five. Law school graduate. Married? Not yet? My grandkids? Not yet. Somewhere in my heart his life goes on.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

How I've come to look at it.

Because all religious belief, including christianity in every flavor I've encountered is, from a psychological standpoint indistinguishable from any other irrational belief (superstition, or magical thinking, for example), I've come to see it as protective, or perhaps a defense mechanism. First though, defense mechanisms get bad press. They aren't always harmful or unhealthy. We all use them to get by in life. After all, you can't spend your whole life completely focused on the full reality of human existence: it's too much. You need to be able to buffer yourself.

That said, I think one thing most religions have in common is the comforting notion that there is someone bigger than you who makes your life possible, who looks out for you to some degree, expects great things out of you. Many have the component of transcendent joy in serving this greater being. Most include an awesome fear of trespassing against it. All of these elements are far too much like a young child's relationship to a parent for me to see it as anything but an adultified version. A comforting construct: God as the Parent who will kick your enemy's ass, and give you paradise, if you're very, very good.

Next, it seems people are neurologically predisposed to find a God construct. There are areas of the brain triggered by prayer and/or meditation in fMRIs of religious folks of all walks. There's the God helmet, too, which triggers a sensation of God's presence when worn, simply by triggering the right hemisphere temporal and parietal lobes. There are other similar studies of similar phenomena. Now, I'm not saying that I think that just because your brain is wired for something, that that means the original thing is real or not-real. The brain is wired for dreams and hallucinations, which I think we can all agree have limited reality (that is, they exist, but only within our own brains). This doesn't mean that I think all these phenomena exist solely in the brain either: there's evidence that some out of body experiences are objectively real, even though you can have a fake one fairly easily, according to Michael Schermer.

When I was in the throes of unbearable grief over Jesse, my psychiatrist kept pushing me to at least try to believe in God and follow a religion, on the theory that it would make me happier, and cushion the loss. I tried to point out to her that there aren't many religions that would accept a dead atheist like my son into heaven, so what exactly would I be forcing myself to hope and pray for?

I've been a serious, deep believer. I know how seductive and convincing it all is. I guess what I want to say is that I don't think believers are stupid, or delusional, necessarily. I think we all have things we believe in with less than sparkling pure evidence. For many, the intuitive sense of Godness is all the proof they need. It's not meant to be logical. For others, that which is good about, say, the Bible, adds to their proof. Again, doesn't stand up to logical tests, but it's an understandable framework, and not stupid, just limiting.

The test is whether the belief is useful, helpful and positive, versus unhelpful, destructive or limiting in some unnecessary way. Maybe God is the ultimate woobie. But woobies and pacifiers when used properly won't kill anyone and they aren't contributory to or indicative of idiocy of themselves.

Got a guitar handy?

Usually when I make up a song I don't remember it for very long. But this one comes back to me all the time. I have to force it out of my mind if I'm in public. Today is Jesse's brother's birthday (I have to give him a nickname so he's not always in Jesse's orbit this way). As I was walking home last night I remembered the day of his birth, and how easy his was, compared to Jesse's, so easy that I started laughing in the middle of it.

I loved being their mother.

This corny song I wrote for Jesse

I hate these corny songs
That make everybody cry
So I don’t have any excuse for this one
It’s just been so hard
since you’ve been gone--

So I try to see you near me
I try to feel you near me
I try to know you’re near me
I try to see you everywhere.

I was walking in the park
Last night and everywhere I looked
I saw a little bit of you
In every face that passed me by

I saw the children you could have had
I saw the child that you once were
I saw the father you’d have been
I saw you old, and slow and grey

And I could feel you near me
I could see you near me
I could hear you near me
And I
Saw you everywhere.

I went off the pills
And in my head I heard this song
And there’s so much I want to say
And hear from you, I’ll never hear you

But I
feel you near me
I feel you near me
And I
I see you everywhere.

I want to tell you
about your brother and your friends
They’re all doing well
And when I see them it’s a little gift
A gift from you, a bit of you.

That’s when we feel you near us
We feel you near us
And we
See you everywhere.

This last verse is hard
Too much like saying goodbye again
Feeling your heart stop
Under my hand

So I'll pretend you're near me
I'll pretend I hear you
I'll pretend you're near me
And I'll see you everywhere.

Thursday, July 2, 2009


Right after Jesse was diagnosed with a relapse, I wrote a post titled Fearless. We had been through this before, we were going to beat it again. His spirits kept mine going. We were going to be fine. The leukemia was an annoyance, a returning nuisance, after the bone marrow transplant, all would be well. He'd never have to go through it again. Then later, when we realized his blood counts were worse than we thought, when the pain got worse, when the infection started, and it hit him that he might die after all, we only had a few days for him to confront the possibility of his death, to fear it, make peace with it. Ignore it, and live each minute as if it were just like any other. I prayed all the time. Every step was a prayer. Everyone I knew prayed.

Yesterday I was walking home from work, and remembered that his last moments of consciousness were a wry smile at the nurse, who had found him sitting on the john, slumped against the wall. Dying. She had asked him if he was alright and he smiled. And then he was gone. They pumped him with drugs to induce a coma. By the time I got to the hospital he was out cold on a gurney, getting prepped to go to the neurological ICU. Intubated. The MRI showed a fountain of blood in his brain, destroying everything that was Jesse. Obliterating memory, movement, thought, dream, breath. All that was left for days was his heart. It stood up to everything, until they pulled the tubes out of his lungs, and then only slowly did it give up. My hand on his chest, feeling those last beats, as precious to me, each one, as his first.

It wasn't the first time I'd been that close to death. I was there when my father died. I kept him alive till the ambulance crew arrived. I knew the color and smell of death, the taste of it, the sound of the death rattle, and lived with that for another 28 years. Longer than my life had been till then. And I had Jesse alive, with me for most of those.

Two years later, those last moments with Jesse stick to me. But then, his whole life is mine now. I'm the only person left alive who remembers it all, or most of it. Everyone else is dead, or born or came into his life later. I will carry you. Up until I lost him, I worried about both boys, about losing them, about what would happen if they lost me. It kept me up at night, fearing for their safety, praying to God to protect them, praying to my Dad to look over them and keep them safe and happy. As if my thoughts, from the moment they were conceived, somehow kept them in this world.

Now that seems so foreign. Someone else did that. Someone misguided worried about things she could not control, believed she had a way to trick life, to fool death, to beat the odds like so many do. Now I don't fear for my future, for my life. I don't expect or believe God or my dead will protect us. The only life that matters to me is my son's, now, and I have given up believing I can do much but be part of that. I can't protect him, only hope that he cares for himself. It's not for me to worry, but to trust him on his own journey, however long or brief.

I don't see my own death as such a terrible thing anymore. Either you are alive or dead. (I could never understand this until recently, and now I can't remember what it was like to see it any other way). The blessing of death is that you know no more loss. Whether part of you carries on or not your time here is done. There will be no more goodbyes. The fear in the pit of my stomach is gone. That writhing, constant weight of worry lifted. You don't have to worry about death, and worry won't stop it coming.

So, no more fear of death. Acceptance of my own at least. I realize that the world works this way: I don't resent that I will go. The world must be this way, and there are nations rising up to take my place as I leave. Who would want to change that? It's fine.

Imagine how surprised I was when someone told me there was something wrong with me for feeling this way. That therapy would fix it. Why would I want to change my peace with mortality? What is there to gain, in wanting to live longer than my time here? What good did the fear of death do me? I was angry that this person thought I should go back, give up my newfound understanding. It took days for me to realize that if I had been who I was after my father's death, I probably would have said the same thing to me. I believed that all my fear and worry somehow kept my world spinning around, kept me and my children alive, kept us in God's eye. But death and I are a little better acquainted now. Life is what's sad and terrible and necessary. Death is just the other side of that, not really a door so much as another step.