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Cosmic | 2014 | Candy Cane Shrapnel


I am not a historian. I happen to think that the content of my mother's life -- her myths, her superstitions, her prayers, the contents of her pantry, the smell of her kitchen, the song that escaped from her sometimes parched lips, her thoughtful repose and pregnant laughter -- are all worthy of art.  

-August Wilson

Wake to Answers

Weeks ago, I went to Dezi's father's funeral. He has had cancer and had been battling it for a long while. I was unaware he was ill. I would send occasional messages to Dezi, always about business of one sort or another, but he did not respond and I thought better of badgering him. I only knew about the death because of a status update giving the date and location for the services.

It was a good funeral, which is odd to say. People cried, but we also laughed. Russ had lived a truly astounding life. He travelled, toured with a band, fathered three wonderful children, ran for political office. His death was a tragedy as all deaths are, since they snuff out a galaxy of experience that will never again walk this earth, but his life was not wasted.

I saw and embrace people I had not since high school. Zack, once my closest friend before vanishing to Indiana, drove in for the service and I felt no distance between us. I introduced my wife Amber around to people who knew me as a serial monogamist, but otherwise maintained whatever status I had erstwhile held in their eyes.

Yesterday, I again saw another status update of this ilk. Jacki's mother had committed suicide. Her funeral will be Friday in Colonie. Amber saw my reluctance-Russ's funeral was peopled by my high school memories, Micki's will be near strangers-but assures me we will be there to support Jacki.

I met Micki once, when she came to my first signing ever. She drove two hours to see me, though she knew me only as her daughter's friend and had no reason to suspect that We Shadows was particularly good. Still, she was excited to see me and I found this reassuring when this is what I needed most.

I've lost a fan, I quip sadly to Amber.

I have been depressed and, for want of money for therapy, have called crisis hotlines. I have not been suicidal, simply because I could never relinquish hope that things would get better and that I should be there to see that happen. I have known the successfully suicidal and those they left behind. I don't have it in me to kill myself, short of a terminal, agonizing, and degenerative illness.

The death of a parent, no matter the cause, devastates one's notion of the world. Our parents cared for and shaped us. They should never abandon us, even when we are adults or are parents in our own right, even in death. Still, in this, I feel Dezi has an easier road. Russ didn't want to leave, though it seems he made his peace near the end. He sucked the marrow out of life. Suicide, no matter how often a person threatens it, is always a surprise and a betrayal of the survivors. My father, who faced his own depression, once said that suicide isn't meant to kill oneself but the whole rest of the world.

"I will miss you. Thank you." That is what the post-it note read on Micki's calendar page for December, which her father has someone explain at the wake. That is the closest thing anyone seems to have to a suicide note or demonstration of intention.

Amber and I waited in a long line to enter the wake. I did not understand why we couldn't just walk in, but there was a line and I did not think it would be appropriate to wander past them and find a seat. After an hour's standing, quietly cracking off-color or observational jokes about the décor of the funeral home to break the mood, we are ushered to Jacki and told we shouldn't have bothered waiting. Jacki seemed startled but grateful that we were there, but I cannot imagine missing this when she needs us. I know Jacki and I are no longer as close as we once were, but I would want her nearby should the unimaginable happen to my parents.

I come to wakes in part because I want answers. Micki had faced cancer, but the stories told make it seem that she had overcome it and was healthy. Depression stalked her life too often, but she had become more socially active recently, more involved in her sunny art. I want to know that there are clear signs, but everything people say at the service points toward her being on the mend. I want an inoculation against the fear that this could just as easily happen to a loved one or to me, but nothing like that exists.

After the services, Jacki and her friends retire to an apartment, where there is food waiting. We order pizza and chat happily. Jacki is palpably quiet, running around in her head, though Eric holds her hand and soothes her. There are no answers tonight-maybe there are never answers-but it is a comfort to know she doesn't have to stare down the questions alone.

Soon in Xenology: New Years

last watched: The Shining
reading: The Time Traveler's Wife
listening: Mindy Gledhill

Cosmic | 2014 | Candy Cane Shrapnel

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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