My dad died in 2007, right on Thanksgiving morning. It’s an experience I still can’t understand fully, but I know it’s the closest I’ve ever come to feeling complete hopelessness. From the nine years since of me thinking about him and what I’d lost every day, that’s the best description of Thanksgiving 2007 I can give.
I’ve always been extremely uncomfortable with diagnosing mental disease so I won’t call would I had depression. But whatever it was made me relive that day, made me regret what I’d said to him the night before or hear his moans from down the hallway as his heart failed or watch from my bedroom window paramedics rushing in and out of the ambulance in our driveway. And each time I re-experienced those moments, I felt a little less hopeless, but madder and madder at myself for not feeling the exact same way I did on the day it happened. It became an unavoidable cycle of guilt and sadness and I didn’t escape from it for a while.
There was one tool that always seemed to make me feel the right emotions, though. Music was different, just like me and what I’d experienced. When I wanted to bash my head against the wall it made me feel angry and powerful. When I would wake up and start crying it reminded me that other people were hurting too. And, probably the best part, my dad lived music. I was too young to appreciate it when he was alive, but I’m always in awe whenever I see his mound of CDs or bins full of vinyl records. I eventually learned that it was in my bloodline to love music, and inheriting that from my father makes me unspeakably proud.
For probably a lot of reasons, I specifically turned to Nirvana for catharsis. Maybe because I could tell they all felt hurt on the inside and I related to it. Maybe because I was a stupid teenager in a world of stupid teenagers who always seem to turn their attention to Nirvana at one point. Maybe it’s because I was listening to them with retrospection. I already knew the end to their story, that Kurt would kill himself and that the band would dissolve as a result. There would be no way of them abandoning me or tarnishing the emotions their music made me feel. No one would die and leave me questioning myself.
So I grew up, along the way listening to more music while still reliving what happened in 2007 occasionally. I’ve experienced more things that make me feel awful and depressed and hopeless but I always come back to what I felt the day my father died. And music has been there constantly . Though, I came across a book, coincidentally reading it around Thanksgiving, that’s helped me out tremendously this year, and I’d love to share my thoughts on it.
That’s the highest recommendation I can give to Imagine Me Gone. It helped me understand a little bit of myself and, in turn, about the mechanisms I used in coping with my dad’s death. The book is told in chapters, each one in the first-person perspective of one of the five main characters. One of them exhibits signs of extreme mental depression. He handles his disease in two ways: one, creating a parody out of the world he’s observing, and two, listening to music for hours on end, extolling the production level and visceral emotion he finds in these tracks to anyone who’ll listen.
And that character made me appreciate all the musicians who held my hand, even for a little bit, these last nine years. People I’d never met telling me that it might not necessarily be ok, but that other people like me are feeling the same way.
That isn’t to say Imagine Me Gone only made me think of these artists. It’s a phenomenal book on it’s own, in part because of the unique way its story is told through the changing point of view. Everyone handles loss in a different way, and no book I can remember besides A Death in the Family reinforces that point so beautifully and articulately as Imagine Me Gone. It also reminds me that you shouldn’t force your coping mechanisms on anyone else. Letting people come to grips with a mental illness or a loss is difficult to witness but might be the best thing a loved one can to. Like those musicians tell me, just being there makes the most impact, not demanding they recognize that it’s going to be ok, because sometimes it won’t be.
So, if there’s one thing I always tell people, and Imagine Me Gone has reminded me of this also, it’s that you need to be thankful for the people you have in your life. There’s probably thousands of bullshit quotes that say the same thing, but barely anyone listens. Hug your kids a little tighter or tell your mom you love her before hanging up on her. From a person who lost someone important a longtime ago, cherish every word you get from them. And don’t forget about that one Jeff Buckley song that always makes you shiver. Or that Elliott Smith album that proves he’s one of the best singer-songwriters ever. They’ve stuck by you and they’ve taught you things you’d never learn otherwise. Take a moment to realize and appreciate how beautiful that all is.