the plans they made put an end to you

I could write a book about how I feel about death. I did in fact write an essay about it when I was in high school. An essay that apparently was so compelling that my teachers kept it for future examples. I don’t really remember what I wrote, something about how death is a significant and necessary part of our lives. It came from a place of meaning but when I was faced with a major death in my whole life, it definitely revealed its true identity as a guiding document that would support me through the most difficult experience in my life.

Well any who, I am thinking about life transitions that occur after a major death. The James Taylor song “Fire and Rain” came on and this one line has always stuck with me:

Just yesterday morning they let me know you were gone
Susanne the plans they made put an end to you

When death happens, or at least when it happened to me, a large part of my psyche blocked the processing. Even now when I realize that yes, yes she did die, my mind becomes numb and everything becomes like some black hole and I really struggle. So is it possible that death is truly an unfathomable event in many ways? That we really cannot process it sometimes because it would crush our worlds from the inside out. I persisted in little ways but deep down inside I held on to the idea that she was coming back, simply away, not really gone in a permanent way.

This idea seemed absolutely, bizarre to me. To the point where I seriously considered psychiatric help in the event that a mental breakdown was in my future unless I truly grasped what had happened. Then I read Joan Didion’s “The Year of Magical Thinking” and she seemed to take my feelings and reveal them to me in a few passages:

I see now that my insistence on spending that first night alone was more complicated than it seemed, a primitive instinct. Of course I knew John was dead. Of course I had already delivered the definitive news to his brother and to my brother and to Quintana’s husband. The New York Times knew. The Los Angeles Times knew. Yet I was myself in no way prepared to accept this news as final: there was a level on which I believed that what had happened remained reversible. That was why I needed to be alone…I needed to be alone so that he could come back. 

This was the beginning of my year of magical thinking. 

And isn’t it more than a year really. What I have come to understand about this new life I live, is that transitions in my life create these pushes on the alternative reality I create. They remind me that in fact time is moving, that time has moved, that something has happened and when I  am thrust from my complacent spot, I am reminded of the subtle but deep emptiness that has penetrated my life since October 9, 2010. When her pupils went wide and black and the last breath that broke from her lips broke my heart and every bit of peace I would ever know again.

So I am getting ready to transition out of my graduate program and, well, just two years is tough. The first year is a transition and the next year as well. I want to make a big life change, like move out of the country life change. Yet every time I think of it, I fall into tears, something feels so scary about it. And I think a lot of it has to do with this lack of rootedness. Which is bizarre and ironic because I thought those were the very things that would make it so easy for me to escape and be able to do this.

But I have realized something else, kinda while I was writing this, that I think I have developed this rootedness. Something has happened in these past two years and I do feel really happy, incredibly happy and content, more than I think I ever have been. And I feel at home and safe and rooted. And maybe because I know how easily these  things can be ripped out from under us, I am even more reluctant to give it up. I am even more scared to choose to be unrooted again.

Is this any way to live?

And these are the moments I wish my mom was here, the in-between moments that my mom was so instrumental in helping me navigate. My rock and ground, my roots. And so these transitions make it even more real that she is not here and that I am wondering this world somewhat alone and very unsure of what to do and very much without a safety net in case I make the wrong decision. In many odd ways, when I choose to live it is almost as if I am allowing my mother to be dead. and that scares and saddens me in some ways that I have yet to understand.

Just yesterday morning they let me know you were gone
Susanne the plans they made put an end to you

I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend
But I always thought that I’d see you again

One Response to “the plans they made put an end to you”
  1. Brit Cava says:

    Thank you for sharing, Ashley. One particular line jumped out at me as I’ve been facing similar thoughts this last year: “And I feel at home and safe and rooted. And maybe because I know how easily these things can be ripped out from under us, I am even more reluctant to give it up. I am even more scared to choose to be unrooted again. Is this any way to live?” I have moved around a lot throughout my life that I became fearless of change. The moment I felt rooted I took it for granted and left on a new adventure. When I missed that sense of having “roots” I began to feel defeated. As if it were uncourageous to simply want to be where I last felt rooted. As if that meant I was not adventurous or brave. After a lot of reflection and discussions with others, I’ve learned that it’s the opposite and accepted that knowing what will bring me happiness in life takes a lot of courage and consciousness. To me, I’d answer the question “is this any way to live” as YES! 🙂 …I think it doesn’t meant you can’t experience new things, travel, etc. It means you can do all that and at the end of the day have a place to return. Take care and congratulations on graduating.

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