Songs of Affliction (Inspired by The Arrow of Time)
Grief is something I don’t think we ever grow accustomed to; it’s like a pill we swallow that gets stuck on the way down until all that comes up is bitter bile. Regret takes that bile in a similar dimension and eats it like medicine until all we can do is swallow the fabrication like it never existed.
I was ten years old the first time I experienced these unsaid but certainly felt emotions. A distant relative I didn’t know well had passed away, yet, I didn’t feel a thing. Living in our home and sleeping in my room, it’s ironic that I never knew him. In a pseudobulbar way, I don’t believe that my lack of feelings came from a place of morbidity, but rather ambiguity; I’d never been a fan of the unknown. Uncertain things always had a way of haunting my soul.
When we got the call that Jim had finally passed from life to death in his battle with cancer, I knew that things would look much different. While he and his wife, my father’s sister, had resided at the hospital for his last breaths, our home still embodied their presence. Everywhere I looked, his things were strung across the house. My mother said they didn’t ask when they moved in, and it was evident this home was no longer ours but theirs.
A rich bloodstain oozed its way into the mattress, now laying upside down and drying from the murky water’s cleaner near the window. Jim had difficulty going to the bathroom, so when he got sick one evening, it was no surprise that my bed was the recipient of his bodily fluids.
As I walked into the kitchen, leftover medications for diagnoses were spilled into pill containers. Dishes piled the sink, threatening the Eiffel Tower with a bet to crumble at the slightest addition to their Jenga games. On the counter, an olive oak of green my parents chose at our home creation was a handwritten note. Along with scrawled directions to the hospital, Jim’s room number matched Sadie’s urgency for her husband to live. Though her optimism was inspiring, it fell to the truth.
At the funeral a few days later, the creaking Church matched our somber for Jim’s presence. Without tears, I began to feel something strange inside my beating heart. I suppose we never realize the value of a memory until it passes or a person until they’re gone.
My mother peered over my shoulder as she wrapped her frail arms around the narrow of my waist. Small tears welled up in her eyes as a small one made its way from her cheek to the shoulder of my right arm. As it trickled down the bare of my skin, goosebumps rippled over my skin, feeling more in my arm than I had in my body the entire day.
I questioned why I felt nothing, why numbness surrounded me in a sea of mangled and crying people who claimed to know a man I lived with but called a stranger. I never really knew him or took the time to, but now that he was gone, I wondered. The torn and faded photos around his coffin cried out in voices of his childhood I sought to know.
In joyless melancholy, a sweet song of affliction passed by my ears that day. A life taken too soon, and a person rushed to Heaven’s gates that I’d have to wait until my departure to meet again.
Within a few short months, my memories of this kind man with a gentle spirit began to fade. Soon, as if almost overnight, the things of our guests were removed from the home and replaced by our newest visitors. Our house became a home to the homeless, even if that meant kin.
Over the years, my ability to feel and sense this world’s credulity would be shattered by countless experiences with despondence. No longer did I not feel anything, but rather everything. At twelve years old, I recall asking my mom why she was crying in Church, only to find myself in the same stagnation two years later. I knew not how or why the sensibilities rendered themselves victimless, but here I was, broken and crying as if my spirit felt something far too great for words.
Seeing my half-brothers shoot heroin up their arms, die, and come back to life was sweet icing on a molding cake. Watching my aunt then drink herself to death was no foreign object of normalcy. But those were people outside of my immediate circle, and their casualties did little than numb a feeling I had always known.
However, when my dad was placed on permanent disability, a tsunami would overwhelm my inability to feel with an inherent dexterity to foresee. Watching my parents scream at each other, I was comforted by the slamming of doors and kisses on cheeks as if to make up for the love I didn’t see between them.
Though they both loved me dearly, seeing my father crumble like a pastry did more to my emotional and psychological state than his said diagnoses did to him. It was life-altering to have yet another stranger living in my home, but even harder to call ‘Dad,’ knowing that the mere shadow of this man was disfigured by opioids, pain, and dispassionate fervor to live.
As his faith faltered and his disease worsened, I cared for him the only way I knew how: through prayer. Though more slamming doors, screaming pitches of rage, and changing moods would fill my mind, I knew I had to love amid the pain. Something within me knew that it was always better to love and lose than never to have loved at all.
After a decade, my mother and I have again grown unconscious to these melodies of great distress that have often greeted our ears. As my dad’s sickness continues to roar, the waves and breakers of much remorse remind me to pursue a relationship with this man, though I no longer recognize him.
It’s been much harder on my mom than me to see my father this way. After all, she’s the one married to him who no longer knows how to love her with his heart but tries to with his indebted wallet. Strings sewn over hurts, screaming, and fights bind up her broken heart time and time again. She isn’t afraid to feel, but when she does, that heart that has ripped is sewn by the crimson shades of His love pulsating relentlessly within her. I ponder her resilience and strength.
Today, my sorrows and tribulations have accumulated in snow piles of memories I’d like to melt and those I wish would freeze for a little bit longer. I think about the people I’ve lost over the years and never grieved over, perplexing the ones that I never want to lose now. I reminisce within the forsaken chances not taken and the days I’ve spent too much time complaining about those that I know I’ll regret when they’re gone.
I don’t think we’re ever ready for grief, nor do I think we handle it how we should. It’s a strange but familiar feeling we all face between the “already” and “not yet,” still trying to piece together how someone who can bring so much joy when they’re here can take with them so much sorrow when they’re gone.
As a child, you aren’t hit by the wave of nausea that someday, that person lying in the casket will be your brother, mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, and you. I think we’re all a bit too naive to understand that while we long for life in Heaven, the piercing agony we feel in the loss here on Earth will always be more profound than we’re capable of dealing with.
Too many of us feel physicality without perceiving empathetically, but I think I’m finally starting to understand it. We don’t experience suffering to know how to suffer; that comes naturally with age, humanity, and disease. It’s a blessing to feel the frailty of temporary people and places, homes without permanent addresses, because they teach us the joy of where we are someday going.