When death arrives, I feel the years of sadness that have accumulated over time as if they were bricks building a wall, a wall that I did not want to see the other side of. It doesn’t seem to matter how it is presented it brings back the profound melancholy of having witnessed death so often.
Some talk about PTSD after having survived the AIDS holocaust years. I’m not sure what that looks like. Maybe it has affected me, maybe it hasn’t. It does remind me of the bad car accident I had been in six weeks ago; this may go before the courts so that’s all I can say.
The other day though I had to pick up my bike in my neighbourhood. Right across the street there had been an accident. It was the familiar seen of the ambulance, lights flashing, people in shock and massive car damage. Suddenly I’m having flashbacks as if what I went through was real. It was so traumatic at the time that somehow I feel as if I’ve been a witness to something that didn’t happen to me, yet when confronted with it, it becomes all too real.
This is why I stopped going to funerals many years ago. Like that accident scene, the flashbacks of not just the pain and grief of the one individual come back, but they all do. This goes all the way back to the days in Winnipeg when it was such news that someone would die from “AIDS”that a news crew came out to one funeral. We had to form a human shield so his last moments above ground were not part of the CBC dinner-time news.
The pain and grief from losing people, and being around those who lost so many over time, became internalized and put in a silo. Having to confront it at times feels unbearable. This is why I don’t watch AIDS-related movies or plays. There has been enough of that in my life, why relive it through entertainmen?. When I saw people having parties to watch “The Normal Heart”I found it somewhat horrifying.
There was a time when the losses had almost stopped, but they are back. Now it’s secondary issues caused over time, inflammatory illnesses, cancer and all sorts of other joyful maladies.
Getting older means that naturally over time one sees more people passing away as we look at our parents aging and think the unthinkable: what will be like when they are gone?
Maybe it’s been my low grade depression since the accident, the lack of energy and the will to do just about anything that was the added context that made it seem more sad when I learned my grandmother is in the hospital with cancer. This is not a surprise; she is 96 years old. The only surprise was that I wasn’t expecting to hear about it at this moment. I’m not exactly sure when that right moment is. I guess I thought I’d hear that she had died in her sleep or something, after the fact.
She had been the one constant in a life with very few. Her phone number has been the same my entire life. Her selling her house that I’d known my entire life to move into a seniors had a surprisingly profound effect. It was as if all my childhood memories had been sold with it. Often I dream that I am back in the house explaining to somebody about the kitchen pantry where my sister played hide and seek, or how there used to be this retched 1960s motif wallpaper with varying shades of blue and purple. Frequently I would have this dream in different incarnations.
I was closer to her than my mother at times. Once a family friend died from AIDS. I was living in Regina and could not be there. She told me she went every day to sit and talk to him even though he was not responsive. She attended the funeral and gave me the printed materials from it. When I disclosed my status she was there for me. I was spoiled, and could get away with joking with her in ways no other family member could.
I often felt a kinship with her because she knew what it was like to lose so many people, friends, family, and her husband to the war. She had lived through all the grief and death I had been experiencing in a much different way.
All of this would feel more natural if our own lives as survivors had not been plagued by death as young as our early twenties when we were supposed to be working towards our future, not confronted with our mortality.
It’s time now to think about going back to Winnipeg. The thought of a funeral is heartbreaking.
For better or worse, I have to be there. For better or worse, this is part of life and I can’t run away from it. Fuck, I hate this shit.