There have been a great number of deaths recently, both figuratively and literally. I, for one, have been reeling with what seems like a continuous and heartbreaking carousel of beloved and familiar faces exiting stage left – Kirstie Alley, Bob McGrath, Aaron Carter, Julie Powell, Jerry Lee Lewis, Leslie Jordan, Robbie Coltrane, Willie Spence, Angela Lansbury, Loretta Lynn, Coolio, Olivia Newton-John. Not an exhaustive list and there are dozens more.
They are, to me, most of all a reminder that I am getting older – we are all getting older- what was once our playground has evolved for a younger generation where Irene Cara, or Angela Landsbury, or Christine McVie’s absence is not immediately felt or impactful. Bob McGrath – no matter that I haven’t seen his friendly face reminding me of the people in my neighborhood for years – left an indelible mark that formed some forty-five years ago and whose songs I can readily produce word-for-word at any time.
Anne Heche, my celebrity birth twin, whose life I didn’t really follow but viscerally felt the challenges and headlining news she endured with a palpable understanding that is truer to me than I have ever dared to publicly share. Her tragic death – and the horror she caused the surviving victim – really knocked the wind out of me.
Worse, Stephen Boss’ suicide is beyond shocking and once again shows how the cracks in the light we all hold dear can fall through so quickly and be lost to irrevocable darkness. It spotlights how much lies can deceive us into believing all is well in the kingdom while the voices inside poison us with doubt and lure us with an end to our suffering.
The icons of our generation are fading away, a perpetual reminder that life goes on and persistent poking at us that we, too, are riding that wave. What will we do with the time we have? How can I make the most of each day?
The little boy eleven years my junior who raucously sang Paradise City at the dinner table and claimed to love the big sis whose bed screws he secretly removed and deliberately lost her television remote, who grew into a tall and handsome, successful business owner, who went scotch for scotch with me one Christmas not so long ago, passed away suddenly in October. There is no single adjective to adequately describe the horror, the suffering, of such a loss for a mother. It is not my tale to tell and yet – it guts me in an inconceivable way. Whenever we hear of a parent losing a child, we imagine how that loss would feel, driven by an almost supernatural need to hold our own close. And yet, I do not have that luxury.
Circling back to Stephen Boss, how many of us have been seduced into imagining life without us in it? That moment where nothing seems right, or – just enough is wrong that it overshadows all that is right. There’s a name for that – so clinical it doesn’t adequately capture the level of despair a person has come to. Like the ominous spirit in Poltergeist, Darkness “lies to her.” It has lied to me. But also, in those lies is a defiance – let’s see what they do when I’m dead. How can I hurt them back in an irrevocable way? Who would do that? If you cannot understand, you have not had a rock-bottom day in your life.
So while I feel all of these losses, my constitution somehow eventually finds a way to rally and I try to find gratitude in what I DO have. 11 years ago I wrote a lot about my custody nightmare while simultaneously celebrating the second chance I had with Todd. 11 years later and I’m less transparent as I recognize the impact that rosy happy shit might have on the silent scroller. I have had moments, especially these past two years, where I felt wounded by the posts/pictures of happy families.
This sensitivity calls out to remind us that social media is a lie – for those who feel like everyone is so lucky but not me – social media allows us to present who we want the world to see, and sometimes there’s a bottomless cavern between truth and reality. Don’t chastise the posers – for some it’s survival, an emotional coping – or a “fake it until you make it” stand. And also for some, it is through this rebirth that they will walk through the darkness and tell Rock Bottom, not today, motherfucker.
There’s several women today facing another Christmas without their soul mate, another who has to hold up her daughters as they grieve – again, another whose mother died 600 miles away before she could say goodbye, a daughter and granddaughter navigating their first in a family forever changed by loss, at least two who will again try to smile their way through the ever widening hole without mom, a multiple cancer survivor just praying for health, a mother grieving a son she’ll never touch again, another whose child has forsaken her, and a woman whose soon-to-be- ex has remorselessly turned her life upside down.
If you are not one of these women, rejoice that you aren’t in pain this year and pray for the ones who are. No one is immune and one day – it is not a question of if but when – you willfind yourself among them.
What will we do with the time we have? How can I make the most of each day?
How can I help another get through, and not feel desperately alone?
How can I rejoice in the blessing of my two parents, my brother Matt, my bonus parents, my first love, my beloved friends, and not become mired in the disappointment and loss of my heart and soul in living form? I don’t have an answer for that, because each day is a surprise. What I can do, today, is be someone else’s strength.
***Parsley has been a symbol of death and rebirth, joy and festivity, a tonic for love and fresh breath, and a ward against witches. It was – and still is in some establishments – a garnish on every restaurant plate. It is also an ingredient in the “special chicken” my mom made in my childhood, loved by my friends and, years later, loved by my baby brother Matt.***