Sunday, February 20, 2011

Why do we wear veils at weddings and funerals?

I posted only once last year and when I look at the Mad Men campaign (which was ridiculously impossible and I knew it all along) I think the reason it happened at all was because I needed something I could pour my energies into that wasn't totally self-destructive. I found out my best friend, my nearest, my dearest first love (that one that shows you what real love is), had very aggressive breast cancer.

I had my suspicions for maybe 2 yrs. prior and had encouraged her to seek attention but nothing shatters the mind and soul like hearing that news for the first time. On Jan. 22nd, 2010, she told me and all I could do was primally cry, "Nooooooooooo!" All is revealed and decimated instantaneously. 2010 became a death march, for none of us live forever but some of us are whittled away. What is the expression, "Death by a 1,000 cuts"?

Kara Michelle Engel was loved by many people (I realized how many only in death and still think that number is rather inestimable really) but she didn't want anyone to know she was ill. She wanted to get this over with and return to her old life. This was a healthy perspective and she was very optimistic. I wanted to support and share that optimism, so no one was to know and I honored her wish.

Still, everything turned gray for me because as I enjoyed the world, I knew she could not and therefore, nothing could hold much meaning for me outside of her presence. I spent a great deal of time with her, drawing, reading trashy mags, laughing, eating healthy foods, drinking homemade juices or coffee, having fun with her iPad, not really watching movies (as was her favorite past time), talking about life and talking about death. She was in the most loving, beautiful environment that anyone could hope for, surrounded by her sister, Bob and many animals. I thought, "For all the years I harrangued her about moving back to Claremont, I shoulda been making an exit plan to move in with her." It was lush, but not overly extravagant- kinda bohemian and classy. She had her art and those of her friends hanging all around her.

Still, as any survivor knows, there is more I wish I could have done. I mean apart from releasing her from the gilded prison of her four walls and body, I wish I could have been there even more, told her I loved her even more, or kissed like we did when we were young and had a pinkie shake or preteen bloodletting type of tryst. This is the human curse and we will all face it in varying degrees at varying times, I know that. I am very good at breaking down things analytically, but sometimes that just doesn't cut it.
Sometimes the core of you just will not obey the noise of your mind. I could read about the stages of grieving and hit every one like a champ, Kara hit all the stages of dying on point in rapid succession, but all it does is trivialize them. People say, "It will get better with time" and I know it has to, but I don't want it to. I don't want to extinguish her torch or somehow soften edges on something so acutely real and beautiful as her. I want to live in memories of her which I know is not a healthy disposition. My husband doesn't deserve that, he's been nothing but the best. Not a runner-up to Kara, but a true equal on all fronts. He's also very disraught over Kara. I feel his pain. If we didn't have each other, I know I'd just die of heartbreak, full stop.
I can't sleep well, even with melotonin because loops of her final hours roll through my head, often accompanied by music oddly enough. She went out in pain so extreme that my mind can not entirely comprehend it. She also was withdrawing from heavy meds because she refused them and said she had already taken them. I have known people to overdose, never underdose. Was she in a dream state, had the cancer moved to her brain, or was she simply not up for the fight and submitting to death, I'll never know. But regardless, she chose the hardest road on which to travel that divide.

Much was illuminated in her death and in the aftermath. I have shared some of this already and some I can not share. Love is absolute, and all that exists forever even if our species extinguishes itself. We are born of it and only leave it behind. But also, there are reasons behind every mystery, some so obvious and mundane that you hafta wonder why you never saw them to begin with. Some that change the landscape of your mind, they are so profound. The largest mysteries are beyond our comprehension entirely (this I guess I always knew since I am agnostic and Taoist- anything else seems to give humans far too much credit) and my only hope is that Kara is now learning those things because she taught me so much in her life and her death. If she is not everywhere and in everything as I hope, at least she examined the complexities and loved the world fully, exactly as it was. She really was very Christlike in my mind, right up to the last. Anyone who knew her, can attest to the magnitude of her spirit. Staggering is all that you can really say.

She left with her heart shaped face, and her magnanimous heart and her first name sounding like caring and her last name meaning angel, on Valentine's Day. While she symbolized love for me on all levels, this is tragic to the point of comedic. Really? The universe really has a fucked up sense of humor sometimes. Well, she always did have a flair for the dramatic, I guess. She loved the burning Mexican hearts w/their crisscross crowns of thorns. She painted them often over the years and recently surrounded them with algebraic equations (I figured x=death or x=love, depending on your mood).

I'm listening to the church bell tolling from across the street and it's going for several minutes. Longer than usual but I wish it would never end. Wish I had taken her inside, she would have loved the mission feel of it. Sam and I went to a service there once on a lark and it’s a real hybrid mishmash (it's Episcopalian [which I was raised], but also, Buddhist, Celtic and Aztec and only God knows what else) but why is it never the right mishmash for me, I wonder. I can be such a seeker and such a naysayer simultaneously. My mind never stops battling, I wish it would surrender. I can't will it to.

Since no one knew what was going on with Kara, it was very hard to look anyone in the eye, especially if they asked about her. I am better at subterfuge than I give myself credit for because it seemed painfully obvious to me, but apparently not to most people. Everyday came worse news about her state or a new emotional low for her or me or bad news about those close to her or those close to me. Close formative friends John Fornadley and Sean Davis self destructed and died. My friend Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head by a maniac and the country unravelled a bit more. For me personally, all of these were a drum roll, leading up to the death of Kara.

When she knew she was in the fight of her life, she said it was ok to tell people and it was such a relief. Finally everyone could tell her what I had been telling her since she was 14, 'you are loved, you are beautiful and you are precious beyond compare. Stop beating yourself up.' Thom Fuhrman, Jaclyn Dierking and I organized a benefit show with Savage Republic (Kara and I's favorite live band) and set up a fund for her. Many did reach out and she said it was the best medicine ever. Better than any doctor could have given her. Many did not, due to their own preoccupations with death perhaps or from me making light of a situation in which I could not fully reveal the extent of. We never want anyone to give up on them, even if in our hearts we know the truth. She knew the truth. We'd cry together about how scared we were. She'd try to play it off for everyone else, but I always appreciated her honesty with me. How unbearably sad for her. It kills me in waves, a 1,000 laps on the shore.
Death has always been a specter we were ghoulishly, morbidly, delightedly, interested in. We romanticized it and worried about it and imagined it a million times together and apart since we were little teenage punk/death rockers. I think that we wanted to understand it, embrace it and celebrate it because we had more than your average share of fear and respect for it. That hasn't changed, and it may have become magnified for me after Kara. I have lost close relatives and pets. My grandmother Mimi and my cat RayRay being the most significant, if that can even be measured. She is in their league or beyond. They all have such dimension in my mind, such depth of character, beauty of spirit and symbolic significance. They are not myth, they are extremely real, but they are so rich that no one can believe how amazing they are, until of course, they know them. No shit. Really.