reapplying breakup songs as songs of loss

This is not a new thing. Remember Stepmom?

Stepmom

Spoilers, Ain’t No Mountain High Enough isn’t about losing your mom. I’m looking at you, Guardians of the Galaxy.

This should be a creepier transposition than it is, though. Especially in an age where the most powerful people in the world obsess over their daughters’ fuckability, I would expect us to balk at so many songs of romantic loss repurposed for…I guess it’s, what, platonic loss? Familial loss? You have to retreat from the word “love,” even, it seems like, if you want to discuss loss of a family member. We’ve reserved that word for a narrower and narrower space, as you grow older and don’t say “I love you” as much or as freely anymore; or write it in red crayon on lopsided heart cards. I think of the studied disdain of Kevin Kline’s Cole Porter, reflecting on the insipidity of the latest chart-topping hit: “an actual song called ‘I Love You.'” His distaste is that of the artist, sure, but also of the cultural critic. People, for wanting such things, are kind of dumb, is the implication. We should, I guess, want more. Or want it more colorfully.

Obviously the right lyrics — or at least the absence of the wrong ones — helps enable the transposition from romantic loss to non-. But maybe we also lend ourselves to this lyrical reapplication through a desire, both to see loss we could have fixed as inevitable, and of loss we couldn’t fix as something we could have fought, staved off, or avoided through calling back, or being more patient, or picking up.

Take Said and Done, by Nervous but Excited, which cropped up on an old playlist I’d retreated to at work and which, instead, had me desperately undoing my ponytail to hide my crying:

Bases covered:

1.) Come back home (not going to happen)

2.) We can get back to the way we were (we can’t)

3.) Try to forgive the rights that I made wrong (I’m sure everyone has lists of such things…continuing to Skype my mom regularly when I returned from abroad, as she apparently expected when she’d stay logged in all morning hoping for a call, is kind of at the top of my list)

4.) Still close my eyes to the sight of you laughing in sunlight (this verges on too decidedly romantic to be comfortable listening to but again, like with Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, the idea that memories held or promises made are concepts relegated entirely to romantic situations is a little short-sighted — and anyway, you obviously want to remember the person who knew you, laughing maybe, rather than the glassy-eyed husk with concave cheeks who didn’t know you anymore)

Again, I’ve written about people dealing with death a lot, and everything I say is salted with the knowledge that it’s very much the wrong thing, for someone. It’s either too crass (I keep saying she died, rather than that she “passed away,” because I hate the fakery of that phrase, the gentleness it implies, when there was nothing gentle or graceful or noble about this), or too narrow-minded (the President is imploding and taking the country down with him; there are bigger problems than one mother who is no longer here), or simply too much (most of the people caught in the bullet-spray of my sorrow don’t really know me that well, and certainly don’t know what to do other than take cover and wait for me to stop posting sad shit).

I am, though, among the people I do know my age, the first to have to do this. Everyone else has the luxury of parents they can still argue with, or of celebrating Mother’s Days their mothers haven’t died on. They can pose in stupid family photos still, and puzzle over bizarre combinations of emojis texted to them at 10PM, and scream and cry and clutch their mom’s hand as they give birth to their first child.

Let me help you then, all you millennials who will get to have your mothers for decades longer than I did. Let me help you do this years from now. Here is a list of do’s and don’ts for losing your mother, in no particular order:

DO Tell your boss. Even if you aren’t really that close or you were just hired like a month ago. There is probably some company provision that allows you to stay home and cry all day. This is important. It is better to do this at home than on your keyboard. Especially if your work has nice keyboards.

DO listen to sad songs, or songs that are sad to you in the context of your loss. That’s how this post came to be, after all. More importantly, even if you possess a steely reserve necessarily built up over almost a decade’s worth of dementia-driven misery, you should probably cry at some point. Music may be necessary to crack your adamantium shell. Grab those headphones.

DO eat. I mean, duh. I’ve never been moved not to eat by feelings, but I hear it’s a thing that can happen. Nutrients are kind of a big deal, guys. Get them.

DON’T become annoyed by people stepping gingerly around you. They literally don’t know what the fuck to do. This is not their fault.

DON’T snap at other people who text you happy pictures, from better days, of the person you’re both mourning. If you can’t deal with it, just ignore the texts. Your phone isn’t going to fill up, and you don’t know what psychology is driving the other person to fling these images of the lost person out there. You can’t yell (or…text-yell?) at someone loud enough to bring your mom back, so please don’t try.

DON’T expect people to say the right thing. They won’t. They can’t. There is no right thing. The right thing would be for your mom to still be alive, and she’s not. So whether you find yourself surrounded by people who pretend everything is fine, or by people who ooze religious platitudes, or who go on about karma or childhood or funeral prices or lame internet jokes, don’t expect a magic bullet. Not from a mentor, not from a friend, not from the old guy who walks his dog at 6AM every day. Literally no one will get it right. Not because they suck but because your mom is dead. It’s not their fault.

Oh, but if it is? Punch them. Just, you know. Because it would probably feel good.

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