Life After DeathJuly 17, 2007
My mom, Geraldine Jusko, died on June 21, 2007.
My father, Ronald Jusko, died in October of 1979.
I was only 9 when my dad died, and, like most 9-year-olds, I didn’t know what to think. I felt sad, and a little scared, but mostly I wondered what you do when someone dies, how you’re supposed to act. I thought maybe I should cry all the time, because if I didn’t it meant I didn’t love him enough. He & my mom had been divorced, so he didn’t live with us when he died, which made it even more difficult for his death to have the full impact on me that it might’ve had. But I definitely remember having the idea that I would never see him again.
Like a kid does, I bounced back from his death fairly quickly. My home life didn’t change considerably; his death hadn’t changed the fact that my mom and my brother and sisters and I lived in the same house and would keep doing essentially the same things. After the initial shock, I was pretty much back to normal. (Other than the unhealthy fear of death that spends too much time near the front of my brain even today, and the lingering knowledge that the heart attack that killed him occurred when he was only 8 years older than I am now.)
That was roughly 28 years ago, and of course my 37-year-old self is a lot different than that 9-year-old. I’m married and have two kids of my own now. But it’s weird to see that my mom’s death has brought on some of the same feelings I had as a 9-year-old. Except the ability to bounce back is still eluding me.
My mom had battled leukemia on and off for over 10 years, and had some very bad times. But she’d always come back. Maybe not better than ever, but her body was amazingly strong, especially for a woman that had never worked very hard at keeping it that way. When she ended up in the hospital after a bad reaction from her latest round of chemotherapy, I braced myself for a long slog, but generally thought this was just another thing to get through. I felt that my siblings and I could just be there for her and we’d will her back to health eventually.
After two months in the hospital, I thought that I’d been right. She made a recovery after several very tense times, and it looked like she might be on the road back. She celebrated her birthday in the hospital, just 11 days before she died, and on that day she ate a little birthday cake the hospital had made her, and my kids sang Happy Birthday to her.
And then it all fell apart, so swiftly I’m still trying to save her in my head. What if they’d….? We should’ve…
I’m still having trouble believing that I will never see her again. How can she be so fresh in my memory and yet so completely gone from my life? How long will it be before I stop thinking of little things in my life and my kids’ lives that I want to share with her, as I would store them up previously in my mind for our phone conversations or when we’d next see each other in person?
In the same way that my life didn’t substantially change in a material way after my father’s death, my life doesn’t really change now. I didn’t need my mother to take care of me any more; I didn’t live with her anymore. I still live in the same house I did before, with the same family that I love, and the same career. The day my mother died, I checked my e-mail before I went to bed. That sounds wrong to me somehow, but it’s the truth.
Except a lot has changed. I now have no parents. The biggest constant in my life, my mother, is gone. It’s a hard feeling to describe, but I feel untethered, as if this world has become a little more unreal and that I could just float out of it. Many things seem pointless in the light of knowing that my mother will never see or experience them again (and that at some point I won’t, either).
And yet I’m supposed to just go on living. Get back to work. Get my daughter back to bed when she wakes up crying. Pay the phone bill. The basement wall needs waterproofing. The cat just crapped on the couch again.
Life doesn’t stop. That’s probably a good thing. But right now it feels pretty bad.
I’m trying to let the good things get a toehold again. My kids had a successful 4th of July lemonade stand, thanks to neighbors and friends. My son and I went for a bike ride today and he made me give him Olympic-type scores for his performance as he coasted down a tiny hill. Yesterday I asked him what he dreamed about and he said, “I didn’t have any dreams. Just the black screen.” There’s plenty to smile about.
Time heals all wounds, etc. But right now meaning is hard to come by. I’ll keep going through the motions, and hopefully somewhere along the line I’ll start to feel fully connected again.
Things won’t ever be the same. But there are still worthwhile things.
e-mail me: firstname.lastname@example.org
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