I wrote yesterday’s post without realizing that it was a meaningful date. My nephew, Donnie, the second child born to my brother and sister-in-law died from complications at birth. It was 1983, which would make me seven. J was three. You’d ask him what he was hoping for while Katrina was pregnant; a baby brother or a baby sister? He’d answer every time with “a baby monkey”. Katrina and I were talking about this yesterday. I told her that I remember getting in trouble for playing Jingle Bells on the piano. It was after the funeral and everyone had left the house. I started playing and Mom yelled at me to stop, said it was inappropriate. Katrina said she didn’t know that had happened. I explained that she hadn’t been there. Mom didn’t mean anything by it, she just didn’t know how to talk to a little kid about death.
Katrina responded with something I had never considered. She said “Yeah, I don’t think any of us did. You, J and Janell were the actual casualties of Donnie’s death.” It was a really weird time. I can’t speak for Janell or J, but I know that I was so confused. But here’s the thing. I wasn’t confused about the death part. Maybe that was one thing about being raised in a Baptist church. There was a lot of talk of people dying in the bible. I was confused by how I was supposed to feel. It was Christmas time. I knew I was supposed to be sad but I was also happy about Christmas, except now I wasn’t supposed to be. A generally happy child was being told to be appropriately sad. My feelings were being dictated to me. No wonder I was confused, but now I realize how often we are told how to feel. Be happy. Be calm. Don’t be sad. Don’t be angry. Okay, be sad right now, but don’t be sad three days from now. There is a limit to how long you should feel a certain way.
When we remember things, we remember them with a mix of feelings. Is it too far fetched to believe that we experience things with a mix of feelings? The line for what is or is not appropriate became completely erased when Chris got sick and died. We joked often about death and we laughed even when our throats were tight with emotion. This did not change after he died. We are irreverent and inappropriate in our jokes around Chris’s death. Because death is not just sad. At times, it can even be a relief. It is the knowing that person is not going to be around any more to hear those jokes and respond to those jokes that makes death sad. I know that whenever one of my tribe makes a hilarious commentary on the death of Chris, that Chris is somewhere laughing with us.
The authentic part of living this life is allowing ourselves to feel all the emotions with out limiting ourselves to who ever is dictating what is or is not appropriate. The Cabbage has asked me about my Dad. She’s asked me about the man in the picture on the bookcase. I told her that Dad and Chris are dead. I told her that yes, it is sad and I miss them, but I have buckets of joyful memories that make me happy. I want her to understand that it’s okay to be happy and sad at the same time. I want her to understand that no one is allowed to dictate how she feels about something; that it is her choice. You don’t need any one’s permission for your feelings.
This is a lesson I wish I learned a long time ago.