On the Account of My Aunt's Death

If you're wondering what I've been up to, take a look at that screenshot from Mimi. Change the collar for a maroon longsleeve shirt, and you've got a good portrait of me.

Several weeks ago, my aunt, Barbara MacInnes, died suddenly. I've had a rough go of it, struggling to come to terms with her death and learning to live in the aftermath. Needless to say, I've been hit very hard. I'm reminded of a phrase I conjured up when describing one's first experience with Grave of the Fireflies, and it rings true again: I feel like I've been hit in the chest with a cinder block.

This is the first time I've sat down to write about it, and I'm only just getting past the shock and emotional upheavals. I don't know how you deal with death when it comes to your door. In that regard, I've been extremely lucky so far in life. Spoiled, even. I lost my best friend five years ago, just before Thanksgiving; David Grimm was only 30 years old, a couple years older than me. I'm still upset about that, and I still feel the pain, but I'm also aware that much of that pain has faded. Time will impose itself upon you in however way it chooses.

I've also had the benefit of closure with Dave, mostly due to a dream encounter, one that to this day I cannot determine was a dream conjured by my mind, or a visitation into the afterlife. Well, the waiting room for the afterlife, to be specific. I've pondered this greatly, in search of an answer. The only interesting thing to note is that he's never been in any of my dreams since; I feel, in my bones, that he's gone. Wherever his soul resides, if it has survived death, then Dave Grimm is in a place far, far away.

Now I've lost my beloved aunt. I've lost Barbara. This is far, far worse.

I'm reminded again of Miyazaki's Nausicaa books. I know, sounds like I'm trying to shoehorn this in because of the weblog, but that novel had a deeply profound impact upon me. There's a great line that comes back to me, one of the most personal lines Miyazaki's ever written. I've always loved it, but it's only now that I truly understand its meaning:

"If I stop moving, I'll drown in grief. I have to go foreward..."

The curse of death is how it affects the living. You must go on with your life, continue your normal schedule, and carry on as if nothing else has happened. You must. There is no choice in the matter. Your every step must be in defiance of this entity, this reality, that has taken away one of your own. It stalks you ever closer with every breath, every step.

I try to take every day as it comes. I attempt to drown my mind into other things, be it writing or painting or music, listening to your favorite albums, reading, watching the latest batch of Criterion DVDs. There are good days. And there are bad days. A dark void hangs over my head, just inches away from my mind. A simple melody, a thought, or a gesture brings it all rushing back, and again I struggle not to swallowed whole.

If I stop moving, I'll drown in grief.

I've treaded through every bad emotion in the book. Anger, fear, shock, sorrow, resentment. This whole damned thing is unfair. But so what? No one ever promised a fair universe, aside from the pollyannas and the crooked puppetmasters, buried alive among the Crypts of Shuwa, who claim to speak for the Supreme Being. Like it or not, God never made such a promise. Everything struggles, everything suffers.

"The greatness of a mind is determined by the depths of suffering." I remember reading that somewhere. I try to repeat them in my mind as I carry on. I've been dealt the hardest blow of my life. Yet I know that harder blows await me. The deaths of my grandparents. The deaths of my parents.

Barbara MacInnes was the baby of the family. She was the youngest, with four older brothers. I remember her when I was, I don't know, maybe six. She was living on her own for the first time, driving her first car, this magnificent, beat-up monster with no muffler and growling so loud it made the front seat shake. Life was just beginning for both of us, and the future was limitless. But, oh, that magic feeling....nowhere to go....

She married soon after, and at that point life decided that magic feeling would end. And so the suffering began. Her husband was a decent guy, not too bright and perhaps a little too confrontational, but a good soul and full of promise. Over the years that followed, time took its toll upon him as well, and he slowly lost his mind.

Barbara suffered this, and continued along as a single parent in Washington. Then illness decended, and she was forced to suffer some more. Her health was taken from her forever. And yet, she still soldiered on, with her daughter who has now graduated high school and will be starting college.

Then she suffered one final blow. Her days of struggle and suffering had ended at last. But what a cost. What justice is this? Why was she taken from us? Why now?

You can choose to shake your fist at the night sky, and scream at the injustice of this fate, but what is there to shout at? Who is going to listen, anyway? If you don't believe in God, then you're pretty much on your own. If you do believe in God, then if you listen closely, He will probably tell you that we're now living in the Galactic Year 14 Billion, and it's a bit late to start complaining now about the cycle of birth and death. If you wished to lodge a complaint, you should have done so at the proper time, before the Big Bang.

As for me, I feel fortunate that I do believe in God. You can decide for yourselves whether that's a blessing or a curse. I'd like to think that life is the light that shines in the darkness, that both purity and corruption are the very essence of life, that our God inhabits even a single leaf and the smallest of insects. That what I get for reading so much.

The world goes on. The leaves turn, and the wind continues to blow. I'm still moving forward.


Sloindahed said...

My condolences for your aunt, Daniel. And you're right: keep that Miyazaki quote in your mind and keep moving forward.

Malik Ming said...

This is the first time I've visited a webblog that got this personal and this insightful. Even though you mention in this article that we've lived too long to complain about death now, this is the first time I've really appreciated how greatly it affects us. But you were very fortunate to have someone you loved that deeply (how many people can say they have?), and now she has been off to a better place.

And, as always with this site, you have opened my eyes to the power of art, Miyazaki's in particular. He is truthful and realistic even within the fabrications of his fantasies. I appreciate that. And I appreciate you for creating this blog. You are inspiring and informative. Please never stop being who you are.

Thank you, Daniel, and God bless.

Anonymous said...

This is one of the best personal essays I have ever read!

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

Thank you very much for the kind words. This essay appears in my new book Pop Life, which will be released this month.

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