They were not the first deaths in my life. I have been surrounded by death all of my life.
All of my grandparents passed before my mother did. All of them within the last 5 years, all of them, having very little emotional effect on me. Not because I didn’t love them, but simply because I am very good at compartmentalizing my emotions.
My dad was a hunter. I often saw my parents chopping up my dad’s kills and putting the meat in the separate freezer. We were poor and the animals were an affordable source of protein.
My mother died September 1st of last year. My cat, Peeker, had to be put down earlier last year in March. My mother was a month shy of 60. Peeker was 3 months shy of 20. Peeker was the first pet I sort of adopted (he was my husband’s cat from college).
Both deaths still effect me today. I have never really fully dealt with the grief because like all good Asians, I am a pro at suppressing my emotions.
I used to think death was the ultimate finish line to life. I thought people who feared death were weak, and people who try to prevent death were idiots. I saw death as simply: The End.
Death however, is far more complex than anything ever written in a play or movie or book. And so much more than my very limited narrow attitude could imagine.
I dont fear death. But I realize something now: Death is incredibly complex.
I have a better respect for death now.
When we had to put Peeker down, I watched his eyes glaze over within seconds of the injection. I saw the weight in his body lift and he went from my first fur baby to a limp doll.
I remember feeling guilty. I asked myself over and over if there had been something I could have done to save Peeker. Had I grabbed him too roughly that night and cause his blood clot? Had I not noticed that this was happening when i was giving him his daily subcutaneous drip?
I think ultimately we had to put him down because the vet told is he was in immense pain. He had 30% chance of living a week if we took him home. And then less than 10% chance of living past a month… but he would be in pain. We didnt want that for him.
I wanted to go home with Peeker. And leaving his body with the vet was the hardest thing I ever did. I felt empty and hollow for weeks until his ashes came back. Even now, I catch his distinctive scent in the air, and do things as if he is still alive.
But it was not the end.
In August of last year, my brother called me. I knew it was bad, and I knew it was even worse when his voice broke over the phone and he started crying. My entire body went cold, and like my defense mechanism was turning on, every emotion in my body just turned off. I told people I was ok. Played Pokemon GO with my little sister and laughed and worked as if nothing was happening. All the while, my older sister was sitting at the bedside of my mom every night.
It’s a 10+ hour drive to my parents home from LA. I think I made it in 9 hours.
The whole time I was there, I felt like everyday I was reliving the night Peeker died… but with my mother. I completely shut down, emotionally. I cried very little. Mostly out of the view of my family.
My mother’s long road to death was harrowing. It was terrible for her, terrible for my disabled father, and terrible for all of my siblings.
Death is a long, slow, crawl, especially for the people watching.
My mother’s last few weeks and days were filled with a mixture of extreme euphoria and extreme anxiety. She would tell me how proud she was and make plans for her funeral one hour and then the next she would be screaming about dying. Then she would bring up old painful memories and arguments and remind me of how terrible I was to her.
I felt this rush if guilt and was forced to face the selfishness of my life. Moving away, not talking to my mother for years, and disappointing her. The guilt was immense. Every single moment that I wronged my mother, played over and over in my mind.
I outwardly shrugged it off. I didnt know what to say or who to talk to during this time. Sometimes I thought about driving home to LA and not looking back… and yet when I felt anxious when I returned to LA. My existence was so uncomfortable. Feeling this was made me feel more guilty since… I wasn’t the one dying.
I carry this guilt with me today. I was missing from my family life for some 12 years because we had such a bad relationship with both my parents. Even up til the end, I had to extend the olive branch everytime to get my mom to acknowledge me.
I can barely watch films where mother’s are dead in the presence of others. It fucks me up. I have to mentally prepare. Steel myself.
My husband and I went to see Mary Poppins Returns, and I could be heard audibly crying in the theater. Everytime dead moms are mentioned I can’t deal. I cried in the theater for most of the movie. I probably ruined it for the other movie goers. I thought it was the release that would end my guilt. It wasn’t.
It took me a whole year to work up the courage to watch Crazy Rich Asians because I had been warned that there were scenes with mothers that specifically speak to Asian culture.
I spent an hour crying and hyperventilating after watching it, alone. Always alone. I naturally cannot cry in the presence of most people.
My mother and Peeker’s death made me realize that I dont know how to deal with my emotions or guilt. It’s not so much that death is scary or that it’s the end of life… but the complexity of death means I have to deal with things I am not ready to face.
Every so often when I am alone, I start crying. Always alone.
I can’t tell if it’s for my mom or for Peeker. I just feel guilty and unworthy of being alive. I feel angry at myself… for my weakness and for being unable to move on. I also feel exhausted and broken. My automatic response is “I am ok. I am over it.”
I am not, over it.
I am still working through it a year later. I have to admit to myself that both deaths caused a huge depression and I started to withdraw from my social life. I don’t enjoy dressing up or engaging with people. I feel ugly, I feel terrible.
I have a great support network and I never let myself slip too far down the self pity hole. But it is a yo-yo. However, I realize that I am unable to move forward.
Death has changed who I am. And I have to admit to myself that I have lost myself. It has forced me to come to terms with the fact that I do not know how to deal with emotional trauma or emotions.
Death is not the end. It is a vortex, and it is something that can easily consume you. You have to be able to ask for help and look for help.
And a year later, I think I need to admit that I need the help. The death of my cat and my mom showed me that death does not allow you to organize your feelings and keep them in locked boxes forever.
So here I go. Trying to face all these emotions and grief. I dont know if I will be successful, but I know that I cant go on pretending like this.