I didn’t consider
When I chose your name
How it would look
On a tombstone
There was a very difficult and dark point in my life when I kept Charlotte Mayerson’s The Death Cycle Machine, about her son’s death from AIDS, next to my bed and read it, over and over, front to back and back to front.
In the book, Mayerson talks about irrational anger: at the friends who have their own ideas about her son and want to share in a grief she tries to hoard, at the medical professionals and well-meaning people who just Don’t Get It, at her son for dying slowly and in front of her.
I read her book, I think, to remind myself that there was something worse, some worse loss, than what I was going through. It was a useful exercise in perspective, and made me see how small and selfish my own pain was in the face of the roaring wave that crashed over her, over and over her.
We have a tendency to do vicious arithmetic in the face of death, to say so-and-so was closest to the deceased and as such has a right to feel worst and everybody else has to be strong for that person. I can remember with a rush of white-hot loathing the officious women (nearly strangers to me) who came up to me at my grandfather’s funeral and told me to take care of my mother, because they (all smarm and knowing) assumed I needed no taking care of, nor knew how to do it, and as if they (friends of my mothers who hadn’t spoken to me since I was three) had a right to tell me how to prioritize the tasks in front of me that day. Just because there’s a casket and a funeral doesn’t mean we stop judging one another.
So it’s with not a lot of surprise that I see in the wingersphere the way Cindy Sheehan is being told who she may talk to and what she may do, what is “appropriate” for her grief and her anger, how much of it others think she should have a right to express and in what way. And to them I’d offer back Charlotte Mayerson, who wrote of the strangest things that comforted and enraged her, and reminded me that I knew nothing about the way such horrors actually happened to you.
I didn’t teach you to ride
A two-wheeled bike
So you could die.