Just twenty-eight days ago my Calista was enjoying a bar-b-cue. It was one of the first sunny days of late spring after a long spell of rain. There was a new boy interested in her, she was winding down her professional photography course, she had done superbly throughout the course, and she was surrounded by good friends. She was playing bocci-ball for the first time and had eaten her fill and, yes, had a couple of drinks. Life was not just good, life was absolutely great.
Less than twelve hours later her corpse lay cooling on a stainless steel table in the morgue, naked, alone and with not one person who cared for her near. How the world can turn in a few short hours.
So let me tell you how Roni and I really feel. Let's just cut the crap and get right down to it. No more Mr. Nice Guy.
We feel robbed. We feel bitter. We are terrified for our future and we want someone to blame. We need someone, something to blame. We need there to be some damn meaning to this other than "she lived and then she died".
The robbery is clear. Our daughter was our masterpiece. She was the only thing either of us truly valued; we poured everything we had into her and we loved her more than we loved each other. Without her, we have no reason to continue. We were robbed of all true joy; the joy parents feel when their child graduates, lands their first real job, meets their own true love. My wife was robbed of planning a wedding and I was robbed of walking my girl down the aisle (or across the beach). I will never have a son-in-law to respect or suspect. Neither of us will get to hold a grand-child, or help raise a second family. We will grow old and bitter as our siblings and friends around us enjoy their extended family into their retirement. Eventually, when one of us passes, the other will be completely alone without one close family member to lean against in our final years.
We are scared at what our life will become. Likely we will have small points of satisfaction and contentment. Finally paying off the mortgage, retiring the loan on our veterinary clinic, maybe even assuring complete funding of Calista's memorial scholarship fund. Those few moments will be only slightly more satisfying than a good bowel movement. My readers should try to remember the elation you felt on your wedding day or the joy you felt the first time you held any of your newborn children. Those high points are permanently erased from our lives, replaced by instant coffee moments; all the caffeine, some of the flavour, but tinged with a bitter after-taste.
Neither of us want to travel anymore. The wonders of the world no longer hold any magic for us; it is a grey, grey world. We used to love going to Las Vegas every spring. We would take Calista out of school and Roni and Calista would hunt sales on the boulevard like Elmer Fudd hunts bunnies in the forest. Calista was planning on going to Las Vegas with us next spring to catch a major photography conference that coincides with my annual veterinary conference. Roni agreed immediately when I suggested we forgo any future trips to Las Vegas. (Vegas without Calista would be pretty hollow and boring). I will get my continuing education via the Internet from now on.
We will do the "grief counselling" that everyone suggests, but unless the counsellor has been in our position, I just cannot see them being much use. The people we have met that are members of this damned club have been the most illuminating (if not much help). The ongoing theme is that it never gets "better", it just gets easier to fake happiness so friends and family stop acting weird around you. Don't get me wrong; I am not ungrateful for the overwhelming outpouring of support we have encountered, but being treated like a fragile village idiot gets a bit tiring after a while. Of course, there is some truth to my fragility; it takes next to nothing to turn me into a snivelling lump these days.
As the memorial approaches both Roni and I find ourselves becoming progressively more emotional. The memorial has become a tidemark for us; once we get past Saturday night, we will have to begin the process of saying goodbye to Calista. The crowds of family and well wishers will thin out, the condolence cards will stop (they pretty much already have anyway), and the long silence in our house will begin. Of course we will try to fill the hours with small talk, but the conversations will eventually start to drag after we have told and retold all the Calista stories we can remember. Perhaps our shared career at the clinic will fill a few more hours and, if we can manage to pull it off, the annual memorial art show might fill a few moments for two months each year. Really the truth of the matter is that as the long years drag on, there will be nothing much new happening in our lives worth sharing with each other and we will eventually be left staring across an empty table set for three but only seating two. That empty spot at the table reserved for the one that will never come home will only get bigger with time.
The loathing of the entire world continues to grow, especially since the coroner is still unable to explain why a very healthy young woman just stopped living one Thursday morning 27 days ago. I want someone to blame. It may be unreasonable, and perhaps some high-brass lawyer can explain this, but not one person at the hospital has contacted us. Presumably there was some effort made at the hospital to revive Calista, and you would think that one of those doctors or nurses felt some sorrow that a beautiful young woman died in front of them, but the resounding silence from that end makes a person wonder. Did they just make some perfunctory effort to save her and then just push her dead body aside as yet another cautionary note of young people partying too hard? Was there even one tear shed? Did any of the doctors even stop to think that he was seeing the end of three lives with the passing of one? Or is there something more sinister at work here; did somebody slip up with my girl and that person is now sitting quiet, hoping the coroner does not find any tell-tale evidence of malpractice? The silence is deafening.
I am beginning to loath people that tell me how they understand how I feel because they lost their father, mother, or mother-in-law just a few years back. Mature people are telling me they lost their mature senior who had lived a paltry 65 or 70 years and comparing that to my daughter who died at 20. There have even been a few people that compared my sorrow to how they felt when their pet died. It makes me begin to wonder if people have lost all sense of reality. If there is any doubt about this, let me make it clear: we all die eventually. If you managed to pass through life without experiencing the death of a parent or grand-parent, it is only because you die young yourself, just like Calista. The way the world is supposed to work is that the old die and the young carry on, not the other way around. And take it from a veterinarian; you are supposed to outlive your dog, your cat and all your fish. Perhaps the only species of pets that can outlive their owners are parrots and turtles; one of those craps all over everything and the other usually just sits still (so it begs the question "how do you tell if it dead or alive"). No, I am sure that the only people that can feel what I feel and know what I know are other member of the "Club of the Damned"
Both Roni and I are really starting to loath all gods and every god. My daughter just died; she did not have an aneurysm, she did not overdose on drugs, she did not get hit by a drunk driver. Calista's heart just stopped pumping and not one person can explain to me why. This feels like Divine punishment; Calista was "smote by God". So a person can either deny the existence of God (and in a world filled with rapists, paedophiles and war criminals that is not so hard to do) or you can damn the deity to your own version of hell. The God took my only child; I can think of a righteous payback but supposedly the Romans already thought of that. Am I filled with hate right now? Do I completely lack faith? Yes, and I defy even one person to give me a good argument why I should change my attitude. I spit on a God that could kill my girl Calista.
So much anger, yet there is still some degree of denial. Roni and I both keep on commenting on how unreal this all feels. We both live in fear that at the memorial, in front of all our friends and family, the reality of it all will come rushing home and we will destroy what was supposed to be a celebration of a short beautiful life. I personally am afraid what happens the day after the memorial, when all my planning and work is finally at an end. What will I do after that is gone? How will I then avoid the reality of my new life?
A client commented to me this afternoon that she cannot imagine how horrible this is for Roni and I. She only has one child, a son, and she does not know what she would do if she lost him. I told her that it was far worse than she can imagine, so don't even try to go there. I told her the only benefit of losing your only child is that you no longer worry about living a long life; you rush toward your eventual demise with open arms. I have no fear of death anymore; death merely means one of two things. If there is some after-life, I get to see Calista again and perhaps have some lame deity explain why she had to die so young. If there is no after-life and the lights just go out for good, then at least the long lonely night will finally be over.