I gave you a bit of a reprieve from the emotional trauma I have been inflicting upon you and I promise, I will come back to my favourite subject, Calista. Unfortunately, this discussion is as much about the trauma you feel after you lose a child as it is about Calista. People need to know how it feels and, truthfully, I need to release some of what I am feeling for my own sanity.
Everybody seems to be sure that first shocking day will be "the worst day of your life", and, in most ways it really is. Unfortunately that is like saying that full thickness burns over 90 percent of your body is just so much worse than full thickness burns over 85 percent of your body. In many ways, that first day is not the worst because you are usually in full shock, feeling very little and perhaps still able to pretend everything is going to be alright. It's the second and third day that are the beginning of the rest of your damned life that take a deep wound into a complete penetration of your soul.
The second day, Friday, was worse. I woke up, hoping that it was just a nightmare, and but realised that I really did sleep in my dead child's bedroom, on top of the sheets in fear of soiling HER sheets. My wife and I had stained the pillows with our tears and the nightmare was shared. It was real and it was about to get oh, so much more real.
Today was the day I had to start making arrangements for my daughter's body to "be dealt with". Do I choose a casket and bury her? Do I cremate her? Will there be a funeral? A memorial? What was the cause? Have they done an autopsy yet? These are all questions that people find it necessary to ask you and yet you are still trying to pretend that your girl is off in Rome or the Greek Islands (her two favourite places of all time) doing an impromptu photo shoot. (Ignoring the fact that I have her pass-port in my safe and I knew that police officer told you she was dead).
Let's cut to the chase: burial or burning, they both are terrible choices. Re-animation or perhaps vampire conversion will be any parent's first choices, anything to get one more hug and "I love you" from you child. Just one more..and then one more...and then at least one more. In my case, I knew my daughter would want cremation. She thought grave yards were a terrible waste of park land and she hated the idea of a loved one being some sort of preserved mummy, slowly breaking down over decades in the mouldy ground. Besides that, if Roni and I ever decide to move elsewhere, we would be abandoning the one great thing we ever did together, alone and uncared for in some distant grave. On the other hand, cremation means the absolute destruction of my beautiful little girl. The flames consuming her hair, pealing back her skin, rendering her organs, cracking her bones. I wish I had never looked into the huge crematorium at the veterinary laboratory ever; I know what happens. I cried uncontrollably as I signed that contract and I will never forgive myself one way or the other.
The autopsy was another traumatic act against my daughter's remains (I flinch at the word corpse). I made the mistake of sitting in on an autopsy many years ago; it's barely more than organised butchery. I appreciated the desperate need to know what killed my little girl, but I just wish I did not know how the autopsy was actually performed and how the pathologists leave the corpse (give credit to funeral homes that they can usually cover the marks of the pathologist well; pathologists are not surgeons and corpses do not heal). In our case, the autopsy showed NOTHING. My beautiful Calista was perfectly healthy when she died as far as they were concerned. No aneurysm (my secret hope), no sign of meningitis, no sign of gross cardiac pathology. We will likely be left with nothing but a mystery.
The decisions to miss a funeral was easy. My daughter was an outspoken atheist and, after twelve years of Catholic school, practically scoffed at the existence of churches of any kind. I personally tend to be a non-believer, but now I kind of want to step back from that. It is a conundrum. If there is a "God", what kind of god would take a perfectly healthy 20 year old with her wonderful life ahead of her and leave my decrepit 91 year old mother suffering in hospital for what will likely be months before she passes? On the other hand, if there is a "God", then there is some chance I will see my girl again, hug her and smell that wonderful just washed essence that used to waft off her hair. I am split. BTW: if there is a God, he has some mighty big questions to answer me when my time comes, and I am an unforgiving SOB.
The decision to have a memorial was easy. She should be memorialised by her friends coming together and celebrating her life, laughing at her many idiosyncrasies (some of them endearing, some of them not so much), and sharing the remorse at a good life cut short. We, I actually, decided to have a photography and art show celebrating the photos and art that influenced my daughter's life. We will show the photos of her special friends Jesse, Amanda, Kareen and Hanna. We will show the art of her favourite tattoo artists. We will show the art of her great mentor, the wild-life artist Jack Cowin, who aimed her down the road to professional photography. We will not cry as much as we laugh and we will try to heal, because we all know that Calista would look us in the eye and tell us to "suck it up" and battle on. June 16th, 2012 in Courtenay BC and hopefully for many years after in Courtenay on May 17, the anniversary of her death there will be "The Fallen Musketeer" art show. Be there if you want to pay tribute to a bigger than life personality that was stolen from us way too early.
Its strange, but in the last few days I have run into many people that have lost children, one of them being my uncle. They all say the same thing: the first year is a bitch. They say that, but I am hearing something very different in their voice. Poor Harold lost his boy 20 years ago and still cries when he thinks about fishing and hunting with him; how great it was and how much he misses it. My uncle Marshall lost his boy 43 years ago (I remember, I was only 7, my cousin Colin was 21, the same age as my girl). Marshall still hikes into the Rockies every year to a remote lake where he spread Colin's ashes. He still returns to a bench dedicated to Colin that has a great view of the Rockies daily to clean it off and sit for a while. Marshall is almost 90 now. Finally, Mel, a father who lost both his sons in the 80's runs a multi-million dollar foundation in the memory of his lost one's and relishes the fact that he will soon have a permanent site to bury their ashes. Somewhere the entire family can finally rest together. The loss of your child never really heals, it just scars over and tears open periodically.
The last gentleman, Mel, had an astute observation that already rings true with me: the survivor guilt of a parent is real and immediate. Even now, just six days after my daughter is gone, I find myself enjoying short moments of my life. Then I catch myself and HATE myself for forgetting she is dead and I am alive. How the hell can that be right? Mel warned me that would never completely go away. He talked about playing golf with his friends and finding himself falling deeper and deeper into a funk as he advanced through his round of golf. He said that you start thinking that you are somehow betraying your child's trust by enjoying even one moment of life. He also pointed out that nobody but a person that had walked in the shoes of a parent/ survivor can begin to understand the remorse we feel. I know the even at this moment, as I compose this rambling diatribe, I feel I should be closed into a darkened room, sobbing and begging for my baby to come back. Take me, Take me, just Take me damn it!! (And there it is, the wave, returned to remind me that she is still dead and I am still alive)
I rode across the wide blue straights today to where my baby died and her remains still reside (probably in some cold drawer awaiting her turn in the propane fire). I had to collect her possessions from the police and return to her beloved apartment to collect the few valuables that she had. I could not leave her treasures to some criminal looking to take advantage of a death for an easy B and E, but the collection of those few items was a test of my fortitude. To enter her apartment and look at the dirty dishes left from her last breakfast, to see her unmade bed, with the impression of her body still on the sheets, to pick up her dirty laundry still strewn carelessly when she changed to go to the fateful bar-b-cue. It is still hard to believe she is gone. For good.
The one bright light in this day is that we got to spend more time with her friends fitting out my daughter's photos for her upcoming show. She will present in that show and people will see what a loss this girl was to the world.
In a final note: I still wish I could believe in ghosts. If there was such a thing, Calista can haunt her mother and I as long as she wants. Preferably until we can join her as mischievous spirits and raise hell together.