Here is a list of four things I don’t believe in:
A cloud city in the sky filled with a near infinite choir of crooning angels; the bliss of pure love spent in the presence of a kind and omnipotent deity; a state of total spiritual enlightenment; being clear, etc. Whatever vision of paradise someone somewhere imagines is their destiny, the only one I have faith enough to believe in lasts just a mere seven minutes and must be spent in a closet with the cutest person at your friend’s grade eight make-out party.
See Heaven, but only with fire, eternal torment, sin and the kid with braces, acne and a runny nose, who is totally going to become an amazing person someday, but whom you just can’t appreciate at the immediate moment the bottle spins their way.
The math is just too hard. Sure I can understand the ironic karmic justice of Hitler coming back as a tree planted in Israel that is eventually killed by Dutch elm disease, but what’s the equation that gives us Donald Trump? Was he a good person in his past life who was rewarded with wealth and fame? Or was he an evil person now forced to spend time on Earth as Donald Fucking Trump? I don’t care how beautiful your mind is or how much your wife looks like Jennifer Connelly -- that’s a piece of arithmatic you never want to see on the final test.
A few years back I spent much of my time professionally focused on the world of the paranormal, but rather than convince me that spirits walk amongst us, I came to instead believe that virtually every “unexplainable” occurrence had an explanation (which -- more often than not -- is usually, “This person has an over-active imagination and really enjoys attention”) and that -- like Ray Parker, Jr. before me -- “I ain’t afraid of no ghosts.”
Now, I’ve made this list because I want you to understand the position I was in when my mother suddenly passed away in the middle of November. When it happened, I did not have any faith or belief in a world beyond this one to help get me through it. The moment I lost her, I lost her forever. All I would ever have for the rest of my life would be my 37 years worth of memories.
This includes the last one, which finds me standing in a small room in a funereal home with my brother and sister-in-law, looking over her as she lies in her casket. We’re there to identify her before she is cremated. It’s definitely her. All I can think of is how much she would have hated how her chin looked. All I feel is the same numbness that overtook me the moment the doctor told us she did not survive her emergency surgery.
At the time I took a strange comfort in that numbness, because I was certain that once it went away I would feel nothing but despair and my grief would surround me in a fog so deep local meteorologists would be forced to issue warnings of its existence. At the moment, not feeling anything seemed like the much better alternative.
But I knew it could not last. The shock would eventually fade and the true mourning would have to begin. I waited for this happen. I waited as I held up the box that contained her ashes. I waited as I improvised a brief speech at her memorial. I waited as the days passed and her absence become so much more tangible and apparent.
I waited and the numbness did begin to fade, but as it did I was shocked -- and not a little guilt-stricken -- to discover that I felt no despair. I felt sadness and I felt a void, but neither was all-consuming. They were both manageable -- surprisingly so.
And now, two months later, I hardly know that they are there. Though things are not the same -- because they can never be the same -- the world doesn’t feel like a dark and hollow place. It feels like the same world it always has been, both good and bad.
People ask me how I’m doing. Their voices filled with empathy and concern. And I always say, “I’m fine,” and they nod, assuming I’m holding something back for their benefit, but I’m not. I am fine. I am good. I am all right.
And I can’t help but wonder if this is because I’m the person I’ve tried so hard to become -- upbeat and positive -- or if it’s because I’m a terrible person who never really loved his mother.
Of course, I know the answer. I know how much I loved my mom and what she meant to me. I’m one of those guys who always refused to take “mama’s boy” as an insult and instead wore it as a badge of honour. My mother always accepted me and was proud of me, no matter what I was doing or how my life was going. In my case the joke was true, my mom really did think I was cool and as long as one person did, what did it matter if no one else felt the same?
Looking at the list above, many would assume I hold a bleak view of existence, since my lack of belief suggests a universe devoid of eternal reward, spiritual immortality or meaning and consequence, but it’s actually the opposite. For me, this world is reward enough. As terrible and awful as it may sometimes be, there is always something we can find to justify our perseverance. We just have to look for it.
When I spoke at my mother’s memorial, I quoted a tweet I’d made the day after she died. It was my attempt to find the “bright side” of this moment. I explained to everyone that having just lived through the worst day of our lives, my family could now go on knowing that each day that followed could only get better.
As guilty as I may sometimes feel for not being lost in grief, I have to remind myself that I am not only the man who spoke those words, I am the man who genuinely believed them.
My mother is gone. There is nothing I can do about this or change it. I would if I could without a single hesitation, but I can’t. Deep inside me, I know this in my core, so any show of grief I’d make would be an affectation, not an expression of my true feelings. I miss her terribly, but no amount of despair will bring her back.
So, I am fine. I am good. I am all right. I am a “mama’s boy” who has lost his mama, but I have not lost the heart that she gave me. It is a heart that beats to celebrate what is and what shall be, not to lament what is gone and never shall return.
I do not mourn, because I love my mother too much to lose myself in sadness. I live, knowing that each little contribution of joy I make in this world, I make in her honour. This is the tribute I know she deserves.