Thursday, December 06, 2007

162 the quaint custom of mourning

I always thought the old custom of wearing "mourning" (specific colors of clothing for specific lengths of time, depending on who died) was a silly thing.
But I kind of wish it was around now.
I feel very emotionally fragile some days. I have problems in public, where it's loud--last night I left a restaurant after eating less than half my meal after a really boisterous family was seated next to me. I dislike children on a good day--and the last few weeks haven't included many of those.
This family featured a baby who periodically let out amazing whooping screams. At one point the kid puked and the parents were acting like the child had presented them with a gift. Everything the kid did--good or bad--the parents rewarded with claps and loud positive exclamations. Besides the fact that it's disgusting to sit in a restaurant next to a puking baby, I just couldn't take the noise. When they started to loudly sing along with a Christmas carol playing in the background, I asked for my check and a box and fled.
I was thinking that if I was wearing mourning, and the custom was observed still, maybe people would understand why I am quiet and fragile and not really interested in social interaction with strangers. That my lack of interest in my meal doesn't mean it wasn't cooked properly or doesn't taste good. Maybe I wouldn't get stuck next to screaming puking babies when I just want to eat quietly by myself and read my book.
I did some research on mourning--the custom, not the emotion. Here's what I found:
(from Wikipedia) Wearing dark, sombre clothes is one practice followed in many countries, though other forms of dress are also seen. Those most affected by the loss of a loved one often observe a period of grieving, marked by withdrawal from social events and quiet, respectful behavior. People may also follow certain religious traditions for such occasions....Women in mourning and widows wore distinctive black caps and veils, generally in a conservative version of the current fashion.
Of course, I already wear mostly black/dark clothes all the time anyway. But I'd wear a tasteful little black hat with a veil. I look really good in hats with little veils. Look at this lovely hat; if only it was all black.
And at the same time, I suffer from terrible guilt. I'm the one who talked to the hospice nurse and gave the directions for my dad's final course of drugs, the ones that sent him from his body forever. Maybe he could have gotten better. (I know he couldn't, but that little voice in my brain, the nay-saying voice, says differently.) Maybe I shouldn't have told my mom to call the cops when my dad beat her up. I should have done more to learn how to deal with his violence instead. We shouldn't have left him alone in the hospital that night so he could fall and start himself on the 79 day path to his death. (79 days. That's all it was. September 9 to November 26.)
And I feel guilt because I'm not crying all the time. Because on Sunday I went to a party and laughed and had a good time, exactly 7 days from the last time I saw my father alive. Because when people ask me how I am, I tell them I am all right. Because I am. These dark quiet moments come on me suddenly but they don't last for more than a couple of hours, and even them I'm not usually SAD, I don't cry or anything. I just feel hollow and fragile, like I can't navigate through the world properly anymore.
I have my dad's obituary on my desk next to me at work, and I look at the goofy picture of him I choose, and I smile at it. I smile at that father, who was barely in Alzheimer's. I miss that father, but he's been gone so long already. I don't miss the tortured, thin, feverish man I last saw 2 weeks ago. He was no father to me. I went to see him because I hoped some spark of my father was in that body, but I don't believe it was. Even if my atheist friends are right and there's no heaven, no afterlife, no Elsewhere Bar, surely dissolving into the universe has to be better than the tortured last few weeks of my father's life. To be everywhere and everywhen all at once...well, that's the definition of god, isn't it?


Mauigirl said...

I understand how you feel, I think. I felt guilty I wasn't crying about my father as well but I just was not sad. I had lost my real father so long ago that I was only relieved when his body finally followed him. At the funeral home we had put up a whole bunch of pictures of him in all the various stages of his life with people who meant a lot to him in those pictures with him - and I showed people who came to pay their respects all of those pictures - smiling the whole time - because THAT was my REAL father. Not the body in the casket.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Today is my mother's birthday and she too, died last December of complications of Alzheimers. I haven't read too deeply into your blog, but so many things I have thought or felt have been described by you in just the little I have read. I also know that feeling that your grief started far before his death...I get that so much.

Now that a year has passed, I feel like we did everything we could to make her last years as safe and comfortable as possible, but it never feels like enough.

I hope you find some peace and can tell you will work thru this.

hugs to you.

Gail Rae said...

Extraordinary and beautiful post...elegantly and eloquently to the point. On a regular (but not frequent) basis I anticipate how I might mourn my mother's eventual death and have thought, as well, that I'd like to be able signify, in public, through a culturally understood symbol such as clothing, etc., what I expect will be my fragility and sense of living in a wilderland. I agree; too bad that at this time, in this culture, no such avenue exists.
I've considered embroidering some sort of sash, in a decorative style that my mother has loved, to say, "My mother died and I'm feeling it today." And, wearing it when appropriate.

NvLadyslipper said...

May 16th--today would have been my mother's 83rd birthday, as well as my daughter's 41st birthday. What a bittersweet day--Ma died July 16, 2007, and I deeply miss her. She was diagnosed in 2001 and we walked that path over the next 6 years. I, too, wanted to shield myself from others. Many times people do not really understand the emotional toll this disease takes on the family. I am a Registered Nurse and was always able to "fix" everything for my mom. But this time I could not fix it and I feel a horrible guilt. I continue to feel fragile emotionally--some days better than others. We are never prepared for the loss of a parent--academically we know this event will occur but emotionally we are never ready. I know that this post is rambling but my thoughts are tumbling, wanting to get out. The hardest part of this journey is the lack of outlets of expression. We all progress at our own pace, and I hope to eventually move on. Ma was a very gentle, loving person and the world was a better place knowing her......