Understanding loss

Last night we watched the season 5 episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer when Buffy and Dawn’s mother dies. So much more than when I first saw it in 2000, I cried. Joss Whedon wrote and directed the episode and he nailed it. I don’t know what death he had to process in his life at that time that became the inspiration for that episode. Maybe he didn’t have one, but the whole portrayal of the reality of the death of a parent was so perfectly crafted, I believe he had to have gone through something.

When I first saw this episode, titled “The Body,” it made me sad because I found myself empathizing with the characters and their terrible situation, but I did not know what it was like myself. I hadn’t had any friends lose a parent and I certainly hadn’t. I saw it as a well-crafted episode that used camera movement, long moments of silence, specific sound effects, very little dialogue, and excellent acting to create a story of sadness and loss.

Now, 14 years later, it was a horrifyingly realistic portrayal of how I felt when my father died in 2003. The way Buffy keeps imagining what she could have done differently that might have saved her mother, none of which is true; the utter helplessness that every character feels because there is nothing one can do about someone being dead; and the unbearable desire to find any hope that the truth is not that the parent is gone forever, but could come back, he’s not really dead, were all reactions of my own. Last night, I got to relieve all that rawness because Whedon had it all in there. I just didn’t realize it.

And then Tara, Willow’s girlfriend, has a scene alone with Buffy where she tells Buffy that she knows what Buffy is going through because her mother died when she was 17. She explains that when it happened, she wanted someone to talk to who could understand the horrible thoughts and ideas she was having, but no one understood her. She offers Buffy a sympathetic ear because she will understand Buffy like no one else in the “Scooby Gang.”

When that little, very quiet scene played out I came to realize that I’m now Tara. I’m in my 40s as most of my friends are too, and many of us will start losing parents soon. Hopefully not too soon, but death is inevitable. As I have been in the past without quite realizing it, I will be the sympathetic ear that knows what is really going on when it happens. I have knowledge that many of my friends do not have yet, but that we all come to know as generations pass to make room for the new ones.

As Willow points out in the episode: we don’t know exactly why people die or what happens to them when they do, but it’s just the way of things. Religions developed to answer the questions people couldn’t figure out the answers to. Now, thanks to science, there really is only one BIG question left without any real answer: What happens to people’s consciousness when they die? We may never know. What I do know is that so much of my father, both good and bad, lives on in me — more than I even realize sometimes — which keeps him and his legacy around a bit longer. What I pass on to my child will include some of those ideas, quirks, and passions, and she, in turn, will carry them on too.

At least in that way, no one really ever fully dies.

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