A friend whose dad died not too long ago just the other day statused about how the loss of a parent ((((stuns)))) you with new base time, increments reset. If it had a sound, it would be the kind of droning low-tonal yawp-hum that would make clockfaces crack, gears melt, springs and innerworkings wrench and bend, digital and analog both, no matter. How long has it been since they died? How many week-months? How many day-years? Nevermind BCE, nevermind Christ’s West.
Apropos for a Monday, today makes twenty-one years since my mom died. It’s nothing to cake about. Seven-thousand-and-some days. 183,960 hours. An e-annotation+8 in seconds. Googling these figures, I learnt too there’s a country song about this duree, “Twenty One Years Is A Mighty Long Time,” but I didn’t listen to it. The Earth flips axes (re-begin your geocoding, GISers!), but you can figure out how to walk it right-side up, footfalls alternating, gravity adequate again. Even if it takes a defiant while. There are mysteries without shits to give about them. Like, I don’t know why I mark deathday this year. Who even cares! Mother’s Day was okay. Some years you really feel it on a birthday or Mother’s Day. Some years, deathday. Probably because of the moon. Wounds long-healing have good days, good hours, bad days, bad hours. For twenty-one years and probably for longer than that.
I’ve lived a pretty coasting-along life, all things considered; but my mom dying as she did and when she did, more than anything else that’s what taught me about pain-body. Pain-body is important, but it’s rawer than I wanted to go into here. Another day, pain-body.
I was thinking back, it must’ve been a Wednesday. Had to be. So I googled this detail, too. What day of the week was Wednesday, June 11, 1997? It was a Wednesday. Wednesday, June 11, 1997. I’ve written it before, but the still-sticky details tower in that moment, me at my Bingham Farms cubicle, my dad calling, which was weird for a weekday morning. His telling me, voice cracking, as if words were non-places. A year ago June 11 was a Sunday. 2017. Time on my clockhands and already in midtown anyway, I drove to Bingham Farms, Michigan, just to see if that building where I worked was still there. It was. I sat in the parking lot for ten minutes tick. Or maybe it was only five tock.
Speaking of non-places, I visited my mom’s gravesite in mid-March, day before a convention I was attending in Kansas City. I visited. But she wasn’t there. You look at a headstone. I found the right one. It has her name on it. A bronze engraving. And it’s not even the bronze or the granite that calls to me, oozing with longevity as they are set to do, but the compound at the joint, the glue or caulk between them that seals and bonds, now cracked and aging, discolored, fading from UV and water and freezing. Slowly, it gives. For me and the rental car, it was a low-touch experience; no wailing, awkward only for the banality of it.
A year ago give or take I was reading a book, maybe Ram Das something something, and in it was an aphorism about how to be in the world that went something like, See your mother in all around, and you will know source. I’ve thought of it often since then. I get it. A kind of attunement to the world. Importantly of course “mother” is vexed for many; mother all around would not be especially great. But in this instance, it was I think a more general swath, positive. New mater-ialism, where invigorated things are not thing-kin but thing-mother and mother-kin.
To you grieving the death of a parent, the best special advice is to remember lovingly and to breathe as you will into inevitable and wildly unpredictable intensity-eruptions, catches of missing, fierce blinkers of whatever other lives may have unfolded and unfolded differently. The other best special advice is to remember lovingly with intention, to wade in or step in or dive in, but dwell because you meant to–private and flitting neuronal memorials.
I rummaged around for that Dass quotation, just because, and the best I could do was in the paradox somewhere between owning up to my generous mis-remembering and this quotation about Aunt Thelma:
It might turn out that your Aunt Thelma was Buddha. She was cooking chicken soup, and you went to India and Tibet for forty years looking for somebody who looked like Buddha. You totally despaired, and in the despair, you gave up all your hope and all your models. You come home, and you walk in and there she is. You look, and you fall on your face before this brilliant light, and she says, “Have some soup.” The pure Buddha, the mind that is clear of attachment, exists anywhere in perfect harmony with all the forces around it. (Grist for the Mill, 39)
Around Mother’s Day, a few days before or a few days after, I was down-arrowing through a bunch of digital photos, sorting for a decluttered archive some of what’s accumulated unchecked over the years. This one, the most matrilineal photo I have, the middle three, all in blue, both my mom, Linda (blue shorts), her mom, Matilda (solid blue dress, sky hue, fourth from the left), and then my dad’s mom, Joyce, middle-most (blue print). My great-grandmother, Harriet, is there, too, second from the left, a smile+gaze directed to my older cousin, Lisa, who was, what?, maybe a year old, in her dad’s arms on the right side of the photo. The photograph doesn’t sting; no punctum, no prick. Nor much in its commanding a wider field of noticing or of study, exactly. It’s more enigmatic than that with its private sphere. I mean that it does something else, mater-chorus, a surrounds of this world’s wonderful unfurling, its smile-on-able becoming (((hell, I wasn’t born yet))).
All attachments are not equal. The word “attachment” has too little nuance when it travels unmarked, unqualified. No specificity. I knew almost as soon as I finished keying it in that the Ram Dass quotation above was the wrong one, oh for fuck’s sake, so I looked again. Found a PDF of Grist for the Mill, searched the full text, glanced the twenty instances of “mother,” landed upon this, a quotation from a section where Dass uses an analog clockface to characterize stages of spiritual development, e.g., from noon to three being a kind of early phase, a nascent span:
Now, in the early period, say between twelve and three, every time we die,
we’re so caught in our own attachments to our senses and our mind, we’re so
deep in the illusion, that when somebody says we’re dead, we deny it and stay
in total confusion until we get sent into the next round. Which is all, as we
will see, perfectly designed. Later, as we get on with this round of births and
deaths, we realize our predicament. We are under the veil of illusion of the
birth—we don’t want to die; then we’re dead, and we say, “Far out, there goes
another one.” At this point we look around, and we see all our old mothers
and fathers and friends. “Oh, my, you were my wife this time. Last time you
were my brother.” (Grist for the Mill, 28)
Wife-brother, if you’re given to anthropocenities. Might as well have been, Oh, my, you were a wood tick who happened upon me in the deep grass this time. Lost, both of us! Last time you were a stink bug, sub-bathing foully at the window sill of my home office. Before that, the old dog we witnessed lumbering away from his owners, slowly and tremblingly and with an occasional yip to express either pain or confusion, and we never found out how far he made it.
But then it’s back to deathdays, marking time, ellipses inconclusion; this is how long twenty-one years is; this is how long this twenty-one years has been. What in mater (and in pater) runs spins weaves dissolves together, altogether, and meanwhile Aunt Thelma’s soup, it’s probably better than most, and I would share a bowl with you, with deep respect for your pain, if we could.