Writing this blog frightens me. Feels like I’m up on stage, blinded by the spotlight, tapping the mic: Is this thing on? In cyberspace there’s no squeal of feedback or nervous cough from the audience.
Last night I watched “About a Boy”. Random. At some point in the last year I had added the movie to my Netflix queue and forgotten about it. Lately I’ve been pretty good about managing my movie list, making sure what I’m getting is what I want. Not that I didn’t want to watch”About a Boy”. I imagined the movie would be something like a romantic comedy, about the only thing Lena’s sister and I could watch in the months after Lena died. Also any skit that featured Kristen Wiig. We especially like Penelope. And Andy Samberg videos. You know things have gotten desperately grim when your teenage daughter insists on showing her grandfather the Samberg/Timberlake “Dick in A Box” video. And he watches it with her. And laughs. Continue reading
The creative mind can be a treacherous companion when responding to great depths of emotion. The impulse to create something on the outside to circumvent the destruction on the inside cannot be held back. The problem, for a person who would like to, even in moments of intense irrationality, maintain some kind of artistic integrity is that truth is a clean plate at the beginning of an all-you-can-eat buffet. Exercise restraint or prepare to shuffle back to the table with a shameful plate over loaded with oozing, sticky, deep fried crap. Once an artist is stuffed with a generous portion of real life tragedy: stand back – cause something’s bound to blow….one just hopes it’s a pretty mess.
My journals from the past year are stuffed. Most of what’s inside isn’t pretty, way too raw; a deep, deep open wound. But there are some things I want to share as they were when they were created. Because…I like them that way.
Between the time I learned my older daughter was dead and the hour or so it took my younger daughter to return home, I was nobody’s mother. It seemed I had become the child of everyone in the room with me – a toddler who could not look out for her own well being.
“How do you feel? Are you sure? Have some water…drink it all.” They watch while I drink it then go get me some more. “Come on and sit down, that’s right, let me cover you up with this blanket, are you comfortable?” “Drink this water, come on, just a little, your body needs it.” “No, don’t get up. What do you need, I’ll get it for you.” I have to go to the bathroom – haven’t they noticed I’ve been drinking water from a seemingly bottomless glass. “Oh. OK.” I’m escorted to the bathroom. Are they holding my hand? No, just my arm. I wonder if they’ll ask if I need to be wiped. They don’t ask, of course, that would be silly, I am a big girl. I come out of the bathroom and am now in the kitchen, giving my caretakers another need to be assessed. “Have you eaten?” I don’t remember, I know I’m not hungry. “You have to eat something.” They look in my fridge. Oh yes, that pasta, I say, it’s leftover from dinner, I have, I’ve already eaten. “Are you sure?” Hmmm. Let’s consider the evidence: I am not hungry. In the fridge there is pasta still warm to the touch. Yes. I have eaten. I don’t say any of this out loud, only that, yes, I am sure.
Late at night, after my family goes to bed, enveloped by the darkness I cannot sleep in, the little circle of light on the side of my laptop pulses invitingly, a beacon from a virtual world. I curl up on the couch and lift it’s lid. The battery warms my legs. I log onto my Facebook account. I know where I’m going and apprehension shakes me from my stomach to my fingers as the “wall” for the R.I.P Lena Loucks group loads on my browser.
Reading the condolences people have left when responding to funeral announcement turned out to be almost pleasant. Wrong word. Kind of relaxing….Predictable. When posting messages on the event page, people are aware they are speaking to the family and they choose their words accordingly.
The “wall” on the other hand… On the Facebook Wall posters are reaching out to each other, to Lena, to the universe and frequently exhibit the abandon of an apostate shaking his fist at the heavens. Words are optional, all digital media wielded as a weapon of expression. The results can be incredibly moving. And emotionally dangerous.
Hundreds of photos from Lena’s life are posted to the wall. Grade school, middle school, high school, college. Camp, vacations, road trips, parties. A girl whose name I don’t recognize is one of the most prolific photo posters. Later, I overhear Lena’s friends grumbling: most of the photos this girl had posted were taken from other people’s Facebook albums, mainly theirs. To me, this seems like a nice thing to do, but it is, apparently, a breach in Facebook etiquette. Once again, I find myself secretly pleased that, like the interlopers who joined the group and increased it’s number, someone was willing to risk the scorn of others to enhance my brag book. Besides, so many of those photos I might have never seen were it not for the girl whose name I didn’t recognize but now will always remember.
We posted details for Lena’s funeral service as an “event” on R.I.P. Lena Loucks. Many of those who respond include a personal message. Like mourners filing by to greet the family, those who send their regrets write the words they would have said if they were with us. Outside the somber confines of a cemetery or chapel, the declarations of regret, grief and sympathy are…exuberant. Exclamation points. Rows and rows and rows of hearts. All caps. Lena’s friends who are away at college write to say they are with us in spirit. Their messages are so heartfelt I do believe I can feel their spirits surround me.
What a luxury to receive these condolences in my own space, my own time, without having to compose individual responses to the necessarily trite expressions of sympathy – how many ways are there to say what there are no words to say. It’s hard to stand there face to face and convey emotion with a pained look and a series of words that, after hundreds of years of use cannot sound fresh and sincere. And yet we want to hear them said and need the contact shared when the members of our tribe arrive to say them. Ripped open from such a terrible blow, we crave the communal gathering of the wood, building of the fire, purification of the wound. And isn’t it convenient, now we can get all that on Facebook. Well, perhaps not in the directly carbon producing sense (though I’m sure Lena, as an Environmental Science major could show me how Facebook produces as much carbon as a funeral pyre).
So here we mourners are, in the 21st Century, paging down line after line of posts from people beyond the physical reach of those of us gathering together. Our Facebook Friends log on to their accounts, wanting to come hunker down by the fire, the cradle of civilized grieving. The soft glow from their magic boxes a way to share the flames.
R.I.P. Lena Loucks Group on Facebook
A couple of days after Lena dies her friends create a Facebook Group in her memory. The millennial generation has added a new dimension to the rituals of mourning and Facebook is part of their custom. Lena’s friends name the group “R.I.P. Lena Loucks”. R.I.P. strikes me as rather dramatic, maybe because I’d been seeing it on Halloween decorations all month. I decide R.I.P. sounds sweet. Innocent. No stodgy decorum: “In Memoriam” or “In Loving Memory”. Just “R.I.P.” Something kids would write on the wood cross they hammered together for good ole Rover’s grave. The group is public; anyone can join. Within days there are nearly 800 members.
I am relieved so many people are mourning my daughter. Embarrassed as I feel to admit it, I am also … proud. I point people I barely know to the group. It’s my brag book, my way to prove to people who didn’t know her that Lena was as beautiful and talented and beloved as I claim. Look, there are an impressive number of people who share my opinion. Almost eight hundred of them. My younger daughter, always eager to check my hubris, points out that plenty of those eight hundred are the kinds of people who cause traffic jams when they slow to gawk at accidents. Most of them kids who’ve heard from a friend of a friend about the girl who hanged herself. In a few weeks, using information gleaned from the Facebook group, they will tell Lena’s story as though she was their friend. OK. I can accept that some of the eight hundred are looky-loos. Secretly I’m pleased they inflate the number I now quote with regularity. Over and over when telling the story I will widen my eyes, slowly shake my head in astonishment and say, “nearly eight hundred members”. Over and over the people I tell will dutifully widen their eyes, slowly shake their heads and express the obligatory awe.