I was trying to figure out what year I took a particular trip -- specifically if it was 2018 or 2019 -- and then it occurred to me it had to be in 2019 because it was after my mom died. I should emphasize that it was not a trip my mom would have gone on if she was alive, nor would she have wanted to go on the trip, nor would she have been particularly interested in the trip. This was a trip to the Von Trapp Family Lodge in Vermont. Yes, that Von Trapp family. From the movie.
When I first saw The Sound of Music as a child, I asked everyone else to leave the room. I needed to be alone with the movie. Conversely, my mom was not a musical person, to say the least. She was probably happy to leave the room. When you encounter people like this, you just have to disengage. When someone says “why do they just start singing in musicals? People don’t do that in real life! It makes no sense!” just run. They don’t get it. We’re built different. My mom was not a sentimental person, which is not to say she was not a loving person. In fact, I think she saw sentimentality in opposition to love. I remember once we were driving in our Pontiac past the River View Towers and “Wind Beneath My Wings” was playing on the radio. I was vibing with Bette when my mom said “why would you wait till someone’s dying to tell them they’ve been second banana your whole life?” I mean, spot the lie. But at the same time, I don’t know. They don’t make Pontiacs anymore and they’re tearing down the River View Towers and my mom died: it’s just me and the song now. So, a win for sentimentality, I’d say.
A long way to explain: I do not associate my mom with the Von Trapp Family Lodge, but it was so clear to me that that trip took place in 2019 because the version of me that was there was the one whose mom was dead. If the trip took place in February 2018, instead of February 2019, a different person would have been there, so it’s easy for me to distinguish between those two years because it’s not two years for me, it’s a Before and an After. Seven years ago there were a lot of, like, memes about how 2015 was 30 years after 1985, the same distance between 1985 and 1955 which is the time Marty McFly traveled in the inaugural film of the Back To The Future series. So if a teenager went back 30 years from 2015, they’d go back to 1985. This is technically true, but the movie doesn’t just travel any 30 years it travels those 30 years. Marty travels to the exact Before that the 1980s thought it was the After to, which seemed like an impossible gap at that time. I guess I’m down to comparing my grief journey to the hijinks of the DeLorean, another defunct car. I do have a point though. It’s coming up.
Now, unfortunately, I’m going to take a break from my obscure film references and talk about The Dream. Some of you are like “what’s The Dream” and some of your stomachs just dropped because you’re like “please do not explain to them The Dream. They don't need to know yet.” Look, not everyone has to keep reading! That’s actually always an option, but I try not to advertise that fact. The Dream is when you’ve lost someone and you dream they have come back to life or there’s been a misunderstanding and they never died. Grieving people have this dream, like, a lot. The Dream is not a happy dream.
There are typically two emotional responses within the dream: embarrassment and annoyance. You’re embarrassed that you told everyone someone died and they didn’t. You’ll have to send out a BCCed email at a min. This reaction is itself pretty sad because it reveals the fact you think your grief has secretly been a burden to everyone. And it kinda has been! Like, reading this? Jesus. Secondly, you’re annoyed because there’s already been a lot of chores and paperwork to complete someone’s death that apparently you did for no reason. Did you know Instagram requires a death certificate to close a dead person’s account? Because that’s a real thing. And this reaction is sad because it reveals that you secretly think their death was a burden. And it kinda has been! Like, writing this? Jesus.
The Dream is typically not a joyous or even tearful reunion. I think that’s because the dead person is back, but you are not. You’re in the After and you cannot really communicate with someone from the Before, even if they’re what caused this demarcation in time. You’re not the person that they knew, so this whole thing is awkward actually. In 1955, Marty recognizes his parents and they don't recognize him. He's from the After. Your brain can more easily conceive of someone coming back from the dead (famously impossible -- many powerful witches have tried) than you going back to who you were Before. That’s the reality. Which is why I prefer sentimentality and this is why more people should break into song in real life. It doesn’t make sense: it’s just better! Because this is a Before too. We just don’t know to what After.
I really really love this Substack. Thank you for writing it!