My mom died in 2014, at only 39 years old, after several years of hospitalizations, surgeries, dialysis treatments and death scares.
I am always finding new ways to cope with her death. It’s a growing, blooming process that’s adapting as fast as I am. My relationship with death now could be characterized as a dichotomy of intrigue and embrace, coupled with an intense, sometimes crippling, fear.
While it can be a bit overwhelming at times to be inundated with different media centered on death-driven character arcs, it’s sometimes cathartic to have such robust representation.
An indie video game called “What Remains of Edith Finch” tackles the story of a family curse that has caused the untimely deaths of each Finch generation.
You live through a nameless protagonist who reads through Edith’s diary, which chronicles her experience of finding out how her family members died. You are transported to different years and play through an interactive experience of each character’s death.
Suicide. Accidental food poisoning. Murder. Accidents. Natural disasters.
It’s as jarring as it sounds.
But, it’s also beautiful. It’s not a bloody, gruesome exploration of death.
It’s handled artistically, in swirling profiles of love and feeling and lived metaphors. You cry, but it’s a good, helpful cry. And ultimately, you learn the tale of this beautiful family, defined at equal points by death, compassion and triumph.
You learn that death is simply a life event that happens after other life events, like making it through puberty or building a house.
Death is symbolic and it means something, but it’s not someone’s defining characteristic.
I find myself preferring this outlook on death. Somehow, it makes coping a little easier.
Recently, I dove head-first into a new Netflix series called “The Midnight Gospel.” It’s by beloved “Adventure Time” creator Pendleton Ward, so I fully committed to watching without knowing anything about the show’s plot line.
And it was only 8 episodes long. There wasn’t much to lose.
Viewers are thrusted into the colorful, surrealistic world of Clancy (voiced by Duncan Trussell), a 44-year-old man living in a trailer in the middle of what looks like an infinite loop-de-loop. Believe it or not, that’s likely the most normal part of this show’s animation style.
But this is far from a normal show.
It’s essentially an animated podcast series that chronicles Clancy’s life as he figures life out. In the beginning, you’re unsure why he’s on his own in the middle of a colorful void, but as he talks with more people for his “spacecast” (podcast), you figure out his story piece by piece.
His spacecast guests are real-world experts who talk drugs, death, mourning, enlightenment and other heavy topics. Experts include Dr. Drew, mortician Caitlin Doughty and Buddhist David Nichtern.
The last guest of the series is Trussell’s mom, Deneen Fendig, who died three weeks after the 2013 recording.
Trussell and his mom have an honest conversation about how she approached death and end with advice on how to cope after her passing.
A tearful Clancy asks his mom how to handle the heartbreak.
“You cry,” Fendig says, pausing. “You cry.”
And cry I did. Both for Clancy, who was experiencing this loss, and for myself. I cried the minute the episode started and didn’t stop until a good half-hour after the show ended.
Though my mom’s death was somewhat unexpected — it was obvious she was dying, but it wasn’t clear when she would die — the last time I saw her, we had deep, reflective conversation.
She asked if I thought she was a good parent. As strongly as an 18-year-old could, I replied quickly, “the best.” We talked about her parenting, the parenting she received, and the life she lived.
These were normal conversations for us, however. There was a mutual respect and understanding between us, and no conversation was off limits. But this conversation just happened to be the last one.
I left her house in York to return to my new Lancaster apartment. I had just gotten my license, a new job and had graduated high school just weeks earlier.
She died two days later. Our last interaction was a tight bear hug — a rarity for this unbelievably frail woman — followed by an abundance of I-love-yous.
There were striking similarities between my last conversation and one of Clancy’s last conversations with his mom; his, too, included end-of-life I-love-yous.
To which she responds, “I love you, too. And Duncan, that kind of love isn’t going anywhere. And that’s another thing you find — that I may leave this plane of existence, sooner rather than later, but the love isn’t going anywhere. I’m as certain of that as I am of anything.”
The theme of death being an event and not a defining characteristic of one’s life shines through.
Though my mom is gone in presence, her kindness, love and charitability that she instilled upon me at a young age continue to guide my actions to this day.
Trussell said in an interview with Polygon, “For me, one of the odd things about losing a mother is that we don’t. ... Their bodies are gone, but I still have my mom.”
I couldn’t agree more.
- Mickayla Miller is an LNP | LancasterOnline site producer. “Unscripted” is a weekly entertainment column produced by a rotating team of writers.