Monday, February 16, 2009

Dead like me

Am I a cold, unfeeling bastard, or am I just dead inside?

When my great-grandparents died, I carried on with my life as though they had simply moved to a new house. I figured that my lack of emotion resulted from my being relatively young and not having really interacted with them much.

My paternal grandmother died when was 21. She lived in Mexico, but I had visited her several times throughout my life. I knew that her health was deteriorating, but I weaseled my way out of accompanying my family on what would be the penultimate visit. I was in college when my mom called me to say that they were heading to Mexico because my grandmother was dying. Once again I made an excuse for not wanting to go. Such a hassle, I thought to myself. A day or two later I received another call from my mom. My grandmother had died, asking for me.

The news had no effect on me. I didn't shed a tear. I didn't feel a thing.

There has only been one time that a death brought me to tears. A cousin in Mexico had died in a car crash. I was shocked by the news because he was young and could not believe that such a thing happened. Still, I was not saddened. It was not until I received a call from a friend that there was any emotional response. I told her that my cousin had just died. She began comforting me and it was this concern that caused me to get emotional. "Were you two close?" she asked. We weren't. Not really. I hung out at his house every time I visited my hometown in Mexico, but that is about the extent of our interaction. I went to see his younger brother (who was my age), not him. I realized that my sobbing was a programmed response. I was emotional because this is how a person who has suffered a loss is supposed to act. The social situation pressured me into crying, but there was no actual need or desire to do so. I simply did not want to seem cold.

I recall an event from my high school years. I was part of a teen leadership group all four years of high school. The group required participation in many community service activities, one of which was spending time at a local convalescent home. I told them the trick to working with the elderly is to not get attached. These people were strangers and had one foot in the grave anyway, I told them. I saw no point in building an emotional connection with a pointless cause.

No one listened to me. We sang Christmas carols, we talked with them about their families, brought gifts, and so on. And each time we paid the elderly a visit, my fellow volunteers became saddened that one of their favorite old people had died. I can only imagine what went through their minds as I reacted to their "loss" with, "I told you not to get attached."

Flash forward to the present day. My sister works at a luxury retirement home. The residents are all wealthy retired individuals in relatively good health. Fancy as the place may be, it is still an old folk's home. My sister loves her job. She adores the residents, and they adore her. This weekend she received word that one of her favorite residents had a stroke and fell into a coma. My sister became extremely worried for his well-being. I asked her why she had even become attached in the first place. She knew that these people were bound to die, so why bother forming relationships? Instead, the resident in question became a family friend. He and his wife would come to our house for dinner. He was present at my sister's high school graduation. I only met him once, but was constantly told that he was one of the kindest and most respectable men one is likely to meet.

Yesterday, however, my sister received another call. The man had died. My sister was heartbroken and could barely speak through her tears. One would think a close family member had just died in front of her. I thought it best to say nothing in response to her emotional reaction, but my grandmother thought otherwise. She asked my sister why she was crying. My sister eventually managed to spit out a comprehensible sentence. My grandmother responded with a chuckle, "Is that all? They were going to die sooner or later. Geez, I thought someone important had died."

I was shocked. Partly by my grandmother's cruel insensitivity, but mostly because she dared to actually utter what I, more or less, felt.

When I related this tale to my mother, she shared the sentiment. "I understand caring about a person, but there is no reason for her to react so emotionally. It's not like he's family. I wonder if she'll take my death this hard?"

I've asked myself a similar question time and time again. Will I cry upon hearing of my mother's death? Will I even care? In the past, when I was an angry teen, I would have simply said, "No." But even now that I have a positive relationship with my mother, I am still unable to answer that I would be affected. I do not know. I'd like to say that I would be heartbroken to lose my mother, father, sister, or maternal grandparents. But I honestly have no idea if I actually would be. Does this make me less human?

And yet I am a very sentimental person. To a fault, I'd say. Any trivial thing (music, movie, show, book, etc.) can get me very emotional. I get nostalgic very easily. I suddenly fall into pits of melancholy just by dwelling on memories, sad themes, and so on. Reason dictates that a death, any death, would leave me shaken for days. Not so. Why do I allow myself to get so affected by fiction and unimportant matters? Why doesn't reality and actual loss leave the slightest impact?

In a society that progressively desensitizes us to the horrors of our world, perhaps I am the ideal citizen. I don't lose sleep over a loss, I accept it and move on with my life. Because, as I have told people on various occasions, "What's the point?"

- R

No comments:

Post a Comment