My dearly departed number enough to make a chorus. In 2016, the year we've come to revile for its loss of so many beloved celebrities and the loss of hope for a woman president, I also lost my mother. It's a common thing to lose one's parents at this stage of life, but nothing is more unexpected than the expected death of a loved one. We tell can tell everyone about the many trips to death's door and the seemingly incessant knocking there, but once the door swings wide, there's nothing to do but gasp with disbelief.
What surprises me these many months later is how close I feel to her at times. How I can clearly hear what she might say in a given situation. How the hairdo or the shape of a daughter's lipsticked smile makes me feel as though my mother is just inches from my grasp.
And what surprises me these many months later is how far away she feels. Her clothes are gone, her room repainted, the wheel chair at the dining room table donated. Some days I cannot find her in any room of the house we shared.
It's the same with the man who loved me, my friend Dale, my ex-mother-in-law. I can open my eyes in the deep middle of the night dark of my bedroom and see Dan's bass leaning in a corner, and I can almost hear the strings humming. They are playing George Michael songs on the radio a lot these days, and I'm transported in front of the TV with Dale talking about rock-a-billy. I pick up the pen to write my mother-in-law's name on the order form for the same box of Christmas oranges I've sent her for decades. The body has momentary lapses.
I never look heavenward when searching for the dead. I don't believe in heaven or hell. For me, there is no old man with a beard, standing at a gate. I find neither solace nor fear in those images, though if I hold fast to those convictions, I must also mourn the loss of the myth of reunion. How do we all meet again in paradise if there is no paradise? Lately I've come to believe that these stories are translations of a cosmic reality so profound that we mere mortals cannot grasp it. Somehow though, I believe our spirits will merge; we'll be one with love and each other in some indescribable universal song.
New Year's has long been my favorite holiday. I want to start over. I need to start over. But should auld acquaintance be forgot? Do we go forward without the dead? We do and we don't. If it's true that we are stardust (and it is), and if it's true that our carbon atoms were once "part of volcanoes, giant redwoods, Apatosauruses, diamonds, plastic bottles, snakes, snails, lichens, nematodes, photosynthetic algae, the very first cells," as a recent science article in the Washington Post tells us, it's easy to imagine how we are and could become part of each other. "It’s certain that your carbon saw the interior of a star, survived a supernova, sailed through the solar system and splashed down on Earth long before arriving at you," Sarah Kaplan writes. And now for the best part of the article. "Now breathe out. Riding an invisible cloud of carbon dioxide, a carbon atom just left your body, headed for its next great adventure."
I was holding Dan in my arms when he took his final breath. I was stroking my mom's hair and her hands at her bedside when she breathed out and the next in-breath never came. But I breathed in. I breathed in.
It's fairly certain that if I've ever breathed in the carbon atom of a singer or a musician, it's rendered no effect on me in terms of musical talent. I can't carry a tune. But on New Year's Eve, I'll sing Auld Lang Syne inside my head--or maybe out loud if I've had a third glass of wine. I'll sing it, arms wrapped around myself, wrapped around cosmic love, while looking up at the stars. 2017 will be a brand new start.
Happy New Year.
- For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we'll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.