This is about the Super Mario game, full of levels and castles. Until the end castle, every smaller castle will have a bad guy to defeat. It gets harder, but each time it says, “THANK YOU, MARIO!! BUT OUR PRINCESS IS IN ANOTHER CASTLE!!!”
I started writing this over five years ago, and I’ve changed it seven times. It’s been several different drafts in my dashboard – and I’ve added to it, subtracted from it, multiplied it, and probably divided it too. When Finish the Sentence Friday asked me to write about a day that changed me, I could write about a number of wonderful and terrible days, but I start with this.
Layers. That’s how deep loss has been described to me. Layers upon layers that you peel off – only to reveal newer, deeper layers. Some are bitter. Some are sweet. And some are easy to peel off and discard. Others get stuck or torn – too early.
Suddenly, I had a lightbulb. “Video games!” I thought. “Deep loss is like a video game in which you get to the end of the level, only to unlock new levels, and fight newer, harder, deeper battles!” And my companion/mentor/teacher of loss said:
If you haven’t heard it a 100 times, I’ll tell it 100 times more. Only weeks before my 4th birthday, I sat down to an early summer dinner with my mom and sister while my father napped in the bedroom. Suddenly with a loud thud and the furniture shaking, he collapsed on the floor on his way to the bathroom. He was taken away in an ambulance, and he never came back. Massive heart attack. And so began my life, before I had the capacity to hold onto memories sweeter than that.
I think about this lately, more so as the kids grow. I watch the way they love and respect Cassidy, and I watch the way they do the same with me. I’ll see them get anxious after he’s been gone merely 24 hours on a business trip and not far way. Or just late home from work. Not a lifetime, and not a world or dimension or vast divide away. Then he walks in the door and their fears subside and they’re folded into his arms so perfectly and I release a breath I didn’t even know I was holding.
When I was four and newly lost, which is a nice word to describe what you are after a loss, I saw a therapist. His name was Stuart. I believe he helped me unlock some layers of my heart and some levels in the game of life. In video game speak, we can call it World One: Early Childhood. The levels were those moments and days – first birthday without my father. First Christmas, first Valentine’s Day, first day of school, moving to a new house, new dad, new step-siblings who became real-siblings, pets and friends and neighbors to come and go. Acceptance. I was fixed up, nearly good as new, or so I thought.
Then there were new enemies and obstacles and demons to defeat. Middle childhood. Adolescence. Changes. New worlds unlocked. New levels to explore. I saw a new therapist again when I was 10. We used Play-Doh faces to discover why I was so afraid of movie theaters and earthquakes. “It’s the loud noises,” my hot pink Play-Doh face said. “It’s the way the seats and floor shake when the movie is in high action.” Even I could see why such things would scare me, after what I had witnessed.
It lasted about as long as it ever did, until change. Going to college was hard and I adjusted. Graduating college and my parents selling our childhood house was REALLY hard, but I adjusted. The loss of my deceased father’s parents was REALLY hard, and I adjusted, almost. We find joy and laughter after every catastrophe because we’re meant to. These were my little shake-ups. My little earthquakes. They shook me apart and I had to learn to stitch the pieces back together.
And then I moved to San Francisco. I got married soon after that and had a baby. Then another. If I sound like I’m telling this story in fast forward motion, that’s because that’s how it felt. And that’s how I coped. So for the sake of my marriage and my kids and my personal well-being, I decided to learn and explore how a loss so early in childhood that you can barely even tell the impact it has until much later, can set the stage for lifelong pain. If that sounds chronic, that’s because it is.
You crawl in and out of holes throughout life, and take baby steps too. You always reach higher ground after the deepest falls. Our mental health requires maintenance and tune-ups more than our homes and our cars. As I watch my kids grow, and am hit again and again by the loss of my father, I nearly have to separate myself into two people – three-year-old Tammy. And adult Tamara. As I see how my kids love and cling and absorb home and family life, I realize the unthinkable world for them is a world without one or both of their parents. No words, no breaths, no gasps, can cushion and explain that fall.
There are no shortcuts or warp zones. You’ll have to fight your enemies and jump over your divides. You’ll sink in the ocean and have to learn to swim. You’ll have to find wings (or feathers) and learn to fly. If you don’t learn all of these things, you won’t move forward. You will be stuck – below or clinging above. And you won’t get your gold stars and gold coins.
You will not rescue the princess (yourself) in another castle. Will I ever rescue my ever-out-of-reach princess in her ever-out-of-reach castle? Probably not in some ways and probably so in others. Probably I have in some ways. Many ways.
This is me linking up, as one of my favorite things to do, with Finish The Sentence Friday. This week’s topic is “The day that changed me was..” And there’s still time to write yours. Come link up with your spin on the matter: HERE.