Funny the World...

Lessons

March 29, 2000

Where does the time go? I swear, this morning I vowed I was going to buckle down, not mess around, and actually accomplish something. So here it is, pushing 5 p.m. I feel I've done some stuff--did a couple of loads of laundry, which I actually folded and put away, rather than draping it decoratively around the bedroom. I really did work on doing transcription. I cleaned up a bit. And here I am at 5 p.m., no further along than I would be on a normal goof-off day.

Work came to a stop this afternoon, tho, as my attention got caught by an interview with Isabel Allende concerning the death of her daughter. Allende talks about the year of pain she went through, sitting at her daughter’s bedside, waiting for her to die. Paula was paralyzed, "her brain was gone," says her mother, and yet she still felt very strongly that there was some "spirit" that was still there, which ultimately left with Paula’s death. She then says that a year later, in the same room, in the same bed, she watched the birth of her granddaughter and she realized how that year of raw pain allowed her to watch the birth and feel the spirit of her granddaughter as she passed from where she was to where she was going to be. She explained that she felt so strongly that the year of pain was necessary to prepare her for what was to come. She said that in looking back, she realized that she was supposed to be learning something from her daughter’s death and that she felt she had learned it.

Wow. Did that ever hit home for me. I have said some of those very same words. Someone who has not experienced deep grief from start to finish may find it difficult to understand what I say, but I am so grateful for the experience of suffering through the death of my friend, Gilbert Russak. I sure wouldn’t have told you I was grateful at the time. It was 1986 and his death was sudden. He had been an incredible influence in my life. He opened so many things in the world up to me. That I am writing here at this computer is something I credit to Gilbert. He encouraged me, he believed in me, he shared his life with me, which he did with no one else. We were only friends, but he changed my life. When the call came about his fatal heart attack, my life changed. The death was the "easy" part. You go through the busy work of funerals, memorials, decisions, packing up someone’s life. You do everything you possibly can to hang on and then it ends and you’re left with the rest of your life. I read everything I could find on death, I experienced everything people tell you that you’ll experience. I cried, I laughed, I had insomnia, I was depressed, and I survived. Through it all, I told people at the time, I had the strongest sense that Gilbert was with me telling me "Pay attention, now. This is important." As he taught me about animation and railroads and computers and the Titanic and Impressionist art and The Ring Cycle, he now taught me about death. And against my will, I learned the final lesson, even though I didn’t know why I needed to learn it.

On May 18, 1996, I found out why I needed to learn the lessons. David died. Stupid kid. Promised me he’d never drive drunk, went out of his way to show me that he had a designated driver whenever he was going to party, and yet there he was, wrapped around a lightpost on a street corner in San Francisco--and Walt and me 3000 miles away preparing to party at Ron’s house with all of our CompuServe friends. Oh God, what a nightmare of a night. Getting through the next hours...days...weeks...was like moving through molasses. How do you bury a child? Your baby. While the pain threatened to overwhelm me, it was a familiar pain. I knew this pain. I knew that no matter how painful it was, I could survive. I had felt it before and I survived. And I knew that the reason why I had to learn the lesson 10 years before was so that I could help the rest of the family through the difficult time after David’s death.

We survived. It was not--and still is not--easy. But we did what we had to do and we got on with life. And then Paul died. In the weeks following Paul’s death, I saw Walt and our remaining children putting into practice the lessons they learned after David’s death. We’re still working through that. Hard to believe that next month it will be a whole year that has passed. But we’re here. We’re surviving, somewhat the worse for wear, but intact.

I don’t want to learn any more lessons.

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created 3/29/00 by Bev Sykes

 

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