This is not a Dress Rehearsal

This blog was shared in Death Dialogue’s early days when it was a personal blog for friends and family. It’s being shared here to provide a more whole picture to our relationship with death.

As part of these three months of healing, I’m participating in intensive outpatient program for the purpose of “trauma resolution”. Having never done anything like this before, I had a few different cinematic scenes playing through my head in the days leading up to the first session. First, I kept imagining the second season of Dexter, when he is forced to go to the equivalent of Alcoholics Anonymous, which turns out to be a package deal of stale donuts, bad coffee, the occasional insight, and a psychotic stranger bent on controlling his life for the foreseeable future. Second, I envisioned the group of HIV+ individuals in the movie Rent, people who gathered for camaraderie and a sense of emotional healing, only to have many of their stories end in eventual physical degeneration and death. Overall, I couldn’t decide if these images were more comforting or terrifying, and therefore was understandably leery of the approaching enterprise.

After two sessions thus far, I’m still not certain how I feel about this group therapy thing. As far as I can tell, it is code for a bunch of crazy people all sitting in a room, talking about their craziness, with another mostly crazy person who happens to lead the discussion. And yet, there are good moments, and interesting thoughts, and inspiring stories. One of the other girls in the group was sexually assaulted more than a year ago, and is moving away from that violation with astonishing grace and poise. Another individual, in his early twenties, is coping with and attempting to comprehend the magnitude of what he calls an existential crisis. The counselor, who is simply chock-full of stories, apparently likes to reference his time spent as a medic in Vietnam. Tonight he shared that, whenever his unit would get ready to go into an area with heavy fighting, the officer in charge would deliver the same speech: “This is not a dress rehearsal- this is the real thing, and we are the professionals.”

That statement struck home for me; not because I have any affinity for armed conflict, but rather because I too have experienced that disconnect between what is and what is desired. It has felt, in so many ways, as though I’ve been living in a suspended reality ever since the accident. Its as if I’ve become one of those unfortunate creatures of Narnia, turned to stone by the White Witch, while the land is plunged into an endless winter. For those creatures spelled into stillness, they awaken unto the self that they knew at the moment that spell was cast. The world that awaits them, though, has changed drastically, paying no attention to the fact that some of its’ inhabitants are no longer able to experience and engage in that change. As one who lives yet in a world without witches and wands, I’ve nonetheless been touched by a force more powerful still: the heart-wrenching reality of sudden death, both unexpected and unwarranted, of one of those persons most beloved in my life.

The touch of this modern day spell, as it were, sent me spinning into an outwardly catatonic, stone-like state. Locked into one place, that of being a motherless daughter, I’ve been without that blessing of oblivion which a true statue should have. Instead, I am perpetually tortured by deepest grief and love lost forever. I’ve been silently torn, rent into a million jagged pieces, which have been subsequently scattered into the wind to land wherever they may. But time moves relentlessly forward, and is incapable of waiting while I search for all those lost parts of my soul, while I struggle to discover anew how they once might have fit together. That fit, by definition, has now changed- because the piece that was called DAUGHTER has disappeared. And no matter how long I attempt to knit back together the fabric of my existence, I will never regain the Lauren that once was, nor can I ever start again from that time immediately after the accident. All that is left is to re-enter the land of the living, even with all of its unfamiliarity, and move forward.

Being a part of this group therapy program helped me to not only realize all of the above, but to understand why exactly it has been so very hard to take that first step. Somewhere along the surreal journey from October 23, 2012, to today, that bone-deep sense of loss and deepest sadness eventually led me to subconsciously conclude that my life must be over along with my mother’s. I can’t explain how such a paradigm shift occurred, or why. I am certain that it is in no way logical to feel such overwhelming guilt; for it is guilt that I feel, despite knowing that I’ve done exactly nothing to warrant such feelings.

With that said, I’ve still spent the last twenty-one months banished to a world of never-ending sorrow, from which there was no relief or escape, hoping for but never actually expecting the emotional thaw that would allow me to return to reality. Perhaps it was the threat of losing Mom’s memory that led me to freeze in place, scared to move in any direction for fear of making things even worse. To have my own happy and full life, I thought, would mean that I forgot the life that was: one where my mom was alive and healthy, with our family intact. And the thought of losing that blessed time, even in the realm of memory alone, has terrified me.

Finally, though, I have decided: I do not want this. I don’t want to perpetually exist in the past, trying to resurrect that which will never again exist. I don’t want to remain frozen forever in a state of perpetual destruction, with no hope of healing. I don’t want to wake up in five years and wonder why my life is virtually unrecognizable. The last year and nine months have been tribute and torment enough, I think, for any one lifetime. I still haven’t discovered exactly what it will look like to be whole, let alone joyful, in the aftermath of the accident, but it is enough that I have decided to look. My mother is dead, it’s true. But I am still alive…. and this is not a dress rehearsal.

About the Author: Lauren Brown is medical resident in Texas, but is a Californian at heart. She enjoys Tequila, food truck parks, and her fur-babies — two cats and dog. She thinks her husband is pretty great, too.