The conflict of death

Before I get into this post, I need to take a second to apologize to those bloggers whom I follow. I’ve got a backlog of your updates sitting in my inbox, pestering for my attention, but I want to be able to approach your shared words with a clear headspace, and I haven’t had that, in recent days. I promise, I’m getting there, but it may take me a few extra days, yet.

Anyway….

I try to keep this blog to talking about my writing, as that’s been its purpose since its inception. But, sometimes, life intrudes into my work in confounding ways.

La Grammaire 1892 Paul Serusier

“La Grammaire” (1892) Paul Sérusier [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I spent the last few days visiting my family in upstate New York, where I grew up.

I don’t hold many feelings of nostalgia for the place itself, perhaps because I haven’t lived “at home” since I went away to university. But, the people still hold significance to me. Understandably so, as they’re my closest relatives. I visit perhaps once or twice a year, and that’s been enough for me, in the past. But, lately, I’ve really come to notice and realize how…well…old my parents are getting.

My mother and father were not typically young parents. My husband’s parents, for example, were married at not much past twenty, and had him when they were still in college. My parents were in their thirties when they had my sister and me. In the pre-Millennial generations, that was old.

Deep down, I’ve always had a concept of mortality. But, faced specifically with my parents‘ mortality has been scary. Especially when discussing wills, deeds, insurance financials, and what happens if one of them “goes” before the other.

Over this last visit, both my mother and father approached the subject rationally with me, and I tried to do the same. Maybe it’s a kind of emotional denial on my part, but I kept thinking, “How would [character X] deal with this situation?” It’s timely and fitting, right now, as I do have a story where this subject – that of a parent’s death – is an integral plot point. It doesn’t really make the issue any easier, though. It just gives me a safe sense of distance.

Simmler Death of Barbara Radziwiłł (detail)

“Death of Barbara Radziwiłł (detail)” by Józef Simmler [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve written about death in my stories before. I don’t like treating it lightly, because even the most insignificant of deaths – relatively speaking, that is – has an impact on somebody, in fiction just as in real life.

Hmm. Reading over that last sentence just now, I can’t help but think I’m still a bit in denial about the whole process.

Part of the scariness of the prospect is that I’ve always been close to my parents, even though I’ve lived far away. I may not speak to them every week, but I certainly think of them that often, or more. To consider life without them is unsettling. Realistic, and likely unavoidable, but discomfiting nonetheless. Without them, I’d be an orphan.

That sounds silly for an adult woman. The word “orphan” has a connotation of a sooty-faced, Victorian-era street urchin, or a child sitting alone by a window, waiting for a nice couple to come along to adopt them. But, it’s true. Not that I’d be alone if my parents passed away. I have a family of my own, and a sister, cousins, aunts and uncles…. They’re not the same, though.

I’ve always known one of the principle building blocks of good fiction is conflict. It creates tension, builds character. I strive for realistic conflict in my stories. In my life, though? I could do with a little bit less of the stuff.

I’ll try to return this blog to its regularly scheduled programming by next update. Til then, bear with me, okay?

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7 thoughts on “The conflict of death

  1. I can empathize, since my parents were also well into their thirties when they had my brother and me. It’s really heart-rending to see them tired and falling apart, and yet they’re still able to smile and enjoy life as it comes each day. To imagine the day when they do depart from this world, well, hurts. A lot.

    I can see where you’re coming from with the “orphan” idea. No one can ever really take the place of actual parents, whether blood related or not, so I don’t think that it’s a silly thing for an adult to think at all.

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    • Thanks, spooney. It’s been difficult coming to grips with this whole thing. My parents might still be around for a long time, yet – one never knows – but we all thought it’s best to get some things settled while we’ve still got the time.

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  2. My father passed away in 1996, and we’ve had some scares with my mother the last couple of years. It is hard to face the fact that, at some point, we all become “the elders.” Life should come before blogging, so don’t worry about that. We’ll be here when you have the chance to visit.

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  3. I don’t know if you like comedian Robin Williams or not, but he has an interesting song for this called “The Grim Rapper”, which hits on a lot of these points.; being a teenager and invincible, alcohol and other party substances, even being orphaned at 50 when his parents died. Check it out for a bit of a dark smile: http://youtu.be/7m_-dWBECdA

    But death in story is something that should not be treated lightly, even a villian’s or antagonist’s death. Heck, in one of my bits, I tried to convey the weight and sheer devestation of thousands of people lost.But there is an intimacy, a real punch to the loss of one.

    As Stalin put it “The death of one is a tragedy. The death of one million is a statistic.”

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  4. No matter how old I get, I still feel like their child. It’s scary to face the mortality and possible loss of a parent. They are the building block of our life. Always there.

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    • It gets more and more difficult for me to accept the more it becomes a reality. I suppose the only thing to do is enjoy what time we do have. Thanks, Kourtney.

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