Thursday, August 05, 2021

The Collapse LXXV: Memories Of The Dead

 14 March 20XX +1

My Dear Lucilius:

Today is my father’s birthday.

He passed years ago of course and with his wish on where he was to be buried – out of state from where we then lived – and then the move that brought me to here, I have not been to his grave site in many years (nor does it seem likely that I shall see it in the foreseeable future).

We often came here, to The Cabin, when I was young to spend the summers with my grandparents, who would drive up here around May (when most of the snow was gone) and stay until September (when the snow started returning). There was about as much to do here then as there is now: Fish. See the wilderness. Visit. Fish more.

His presence continues to fill this space, of course: he was coming up here before I was even born and there is a picture here of him in his jeans and white T-shirt watching me in a cloth diaper playing in the yard. If I were to dig in the closet hard enough, I still think I might be able to find some of the metal cars I was playing with in that picture. I, ever a fool for nostalgia, can still find things I can still never part with.

It is odd how the presence of the departed stays with us even after then are gone.

Typically it is not something that one dwells when our loved ones are alive, this realization that they will be gone – an ultimate form of incommunicado – with any real conviction or mediation, or at least something I did not dwell on.

It is true in the society that was the late 20th and early 21st Century the West moved around in a way that it had not prior. Our loved ones too often became another person one spoke with remotely or visited on vacation. In a meaningful and perhaps unrealized way, such a sense has started every earlier during the great periods of colonization in the 18th and 19th Century: the trend of leaving and never returning due to distance and cost was well established before distance and cost were no longer an issue but choice and convenience were.

And so many accepted and adopted the fact that family relationships were just another version of the virtual and partial relationships that they experienced in everyday life. And that – like a letter, or phone call, or InterWeb contact, one could just reach out and they would be there.

Until, of course, they are not.

Does religion play a role in this? I suppose so, yes. If one believes that one will see one’s loved ones in the future – even a far future – it makes the separation less hard to bear. In that sense I have never understood how the true materialist continued to function after the death of loved ones: that was it. That was all. Perhaps even they, in their heart of hearts, thought there was a future meeting that even they believed they could not see.

In some ways I suppose, the reality of the Japanese festival of Obon, where the dead return to the land of the living for a time, remains true: in a very real sense, even if only in memory, the dead continue to be with us, circulating in and out of our lives with a wispy touch and continuing appearance and disappearance out of the corner of our eye. They haunt our reality not as fiendish specters seeking to deprive of our vital energy (much to the dismay of Gothic horror writers), but as memory and perhaps guidance as we think on them and their advice (or what their advice would have been, given whatever the current situation we find ourselves in is).

But all of this does not change the fact that they are not present, and are at times sorely missed.

Even after all these years, I still have the voice mails from him preserved on my phone, there to listen to if desired. Foolishness perhaps – eventually even the phone will not be able to be charged and the voice will disappear with everything else.

Memories in the end are no substitute for the reality of the person, even if in disembodied voice form.

Your Obedient Servant, Seneca


  1. Anonymous7:49 AM

    Mom passed away in 2018 in June. We were close but due to the condition which eventually killed he, the pain was also dulled by my relief her suffering was ended. I still talk to her in my head though, thanking her for all of her sacrifices she did so that my brother and I had something in the bank after she was gone.

    Not that we are dependent on that, but the cushion (especially during this pandemic) has been a major stress relief. Brother lost his job last April and still hasn't found a job to replace what he had. Good thing he is a home body and with the daily DIY projects he does, does not mind so much the early retirement.

    I do miss my Dad as well, he gone since 1998. A sudden event with no warning, a fatal heart attack in the backyard while he fed homing pigeons in their loft. He was an awesome Father, and I never realized how well he did until I had two kids of my own to raise.

    Thank you Mom and Dad - I hope you are content with your earned reward.

    1. Anonymous - I think your experience with your mother is often the way for those who are left behind someone that is suffering - sadness for their passing of course, but at the same time a sense of relief that they are not in pain or in the condition they were in. It is an odd paradox, to be happy and sad at a passing.

      I came to appreciate my father more and more when I, too, had children of my own. Some of the issues that I saw in him made more sense, and the reality that for many years he worked at a job (and not an office one) where he seldom if ever complained now takes my breath away.

      I miss speaking with both of them now, or at least the way I used to. Our conversations now are of the simplest sort, and from what I can tell even the memories of what went before are not really there. Frankly, I miss my dad's advice.

      It sounds like your parents did well by you, which is all I think we as parents can really hope for.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  2. One of the most endearing moments in film is the scene from "Christmas Vacation" where Chevy Chase sits locked in the attic watching the Ghosts in old home movies. We have video and voice mail to recall our ghosts now.

    1. Just So - Oddly enough, there are still reels of film at my parents' house, old home movies (they may have been converted to VHS, for all the good that does now). I am sure they have a projector. And were I to play them, ghosts would indeed live again.

  3. Both of my parents have been gone for so long, I can honestly say I don't think about them that often... at least not with any longing. My sister, however, has only been gone five years and I still miss her greatly. I use to have a voice mail from her somewhere, but it might have disappeared when I got my last phone.

    1. Kelly - I wonder if time has anything to do with it. I still miss my grandparents (both sides) and my Uncle B (who owned The Ranch before my parents did), and they have been gone between 25 and 42 years now.

      I do need to figure out how to get them off of my phone at some point - eventually that technology will go away as well.

  4. Anonymous11:56 AM

    Thanks for the meaningful new chapter. - Keith

    1. Always a pleasure Keith. You are more than welcome.

  5. This is a very human subject for Seneca to write about. Yesterday was my dad's birthday, the first since he passed. Our family is one separated by great distances, and as you say, that becomes it's own kind of normal.

    1. Leigh - First of all (and most important), condolences on your loss. It has, for various reasons, been on my mind lately.

      We are also separated by great distances, and we are reaching the point where our children will more than likely be great distances away as well - no-one has a particular desire to stay in New Home. I do not know that I have become reconciled to it fully - I grew up where my material grandparents lived in town, my mother's sister in state (my mother's brother was in the Navy and thus mostly away), and two to three great aunts within 20 minutes, as well as my paternal grandparents 30 minutes away. We have not lived that close to family again since we moved in 2009.

      I am accepting of it, as it is simply the way things are now. The only way to keep that close would be to follow one or more children wherever they are going to live. That, too, ends up being a fool's errand with today's nomadic tendencies.

  6. Thank you for sharing this letter. It stirs our hearts in remembrance of loved ones and a shared favored past.

    My own pa was mostly unyielding, certainly loving but hidden. As dad, he had a job to do and, while understood at the time the depth and caliber of his conduct, it was, as often is the case I guess, in hindsight that we began to fully appreciate his steadfast efforts.

    Pa carried an immense load even to his several siblings and their offspring. If he complained, it was only the the highers such as wont of a good Marine. My brothers and me have oft commented on the width and breadth of that which we learned at his hand. It is an understatement to say we are merely grateful.

    I have a photograph of him holding his 2nd son (me) while I was yet 2 months old. I hadn't thought that those rough and large hands could hold so gently. And in his eye is affection which a truly loving soul could understand. The background of that full color photograph is the brilliant fauna which we all loved so dearly. So, it is a young man lovingly caressing his infant son surrounded by the beauty of that place we shall never let go in our hearts.

    1. Rick, you are more than welcome. I find that Seneca is able to write about such things in a way that I am not.

      With my parents having to relocate into assisted living this year, such things have been a great deal on my mind as I am not able to speak with them regularly or with the same understanding that they used to have. Their generation of my family is quickly passing on and we will only have their memories.

      Thank you so very much for sharing your story and thank you for stopping by!


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