PODCAST - my first three encounters with death.png

Welcome to the Alive and Mortal podcast. This is Season One, Episode Two in the “getting to know me” series, and I'm Kim Go.

In this second podcast I wanted to talk about the three first losses that I experienced in my life. The three deaths that came extremely early in my life.

They're very illustrative of certain points that I have particularly struggled with in my life, but also feel like there's a lot of cultural markers within the stories that become an important part of what we're doing here at Alive and Mortal since we began.

When I was five years old life was pretty normal at that point, everyone kind of did their thing - got dressed went to school, went to work, came home, played - life was pretty typical.

Now, the one thing that was not a “normal” condition was - that I was an oooops baby. So my parents and my grandparents were much older than my peers in my cohort group.

So at the age of five, my grandmother passed away. And this was the first significant death within the tighter family system that I experienced. Now at five, we have very sketchy, on and off memories and we have these very generalized memories but then we can have some very specific things that we remember that are etched on our brains. And my grandmother's Memorial funeral service - in the transferring between the mortuary (which was a very scary place) to the graveyard where she was to be interred that juncture - that became a very traumatizing moment for me. Etched on my mind.

Everyone was dressed in black, which this was the first time that I had observed everyone dressed in a similar color. And there were these deep deep silences, a lot of stoicism and upset and furrowed brows. This was marked by outbursts of tears and uncontrollable crying. And that went back and forth. There was this very silent inability to express oneself. And then this very animal guttural crying, that went on. It was unusual, and awe inspiring and confusing for a five year old child.

When we were to transfer from the mortuary to the graveyard, the mortician's had limousines. And the way that they handled this was the immediate family was to ride in one limousine by themselves, all together. And then, subsequent extended family was to ride in other limousines. So my mother and all her sisters were shuffled off into one limousine.

I was to ride with my father and my siblings in the other limousine. And this was very upsetting to me. I could tell that my mother was extremely upset. I had no idea why. Everything was happening…  I kind of couldn't understand a lot about death… I understood a little bit. But I saw that she was upset. I saw that she and I were being separated and put in separate vehicles.

That it was a terrifying environment. And I knew I better keep my mouth shut. But inside I was terrified. I was terrified that she was being separated from me, and that she was going into a vehicle and being taken somewhere. And I wasn't even sure if I was going to the same place she was going.

And so it was that  mixture of silence and a level of inarticulate nature to everything that was stunning.

And it was as if the adults couldn't explain what was happening or, or couldn't even take the time to explain what was happening. So there was a saw-horsing back and forth between guttural crying and nothing being articulated at all.

So, that was my very first experience with death.

And the next death that I experienced was maybe not even a year later… I was six years old at the time. I came home from school and my father - who is a great deal older  -was already retired. So he was at home. And I came through the door, and he said, I want to talk to you - which seemed very intentionally strange.

So he sat me down and he said “I want you to know that our dog had been hit by a car today.”

And immediately I started being highly emotional and started to cry.

And I asked what happened. And this is where, you know… my father was a man of a different era. He had whole different set of experiences with life and with animals, and with the treacherousness of life - let's put it that way. As a young man he wasn't able to finish school, he began working in the coal mines, as a young boy. He ended up working for a very short period of time in a slaughterhouse. And he did not endure that well. But he was also a hunter by nature and we had rifles on the wall from his hunting collection that he was proud of.

Hhe was more pragmatic, he grew up in a different era, different time. And he also was not emotionally integrated as a person.

So when I asked him what happened, he said that the dog had been hit by a car, but the dog had not died, but was severely injured. And so he ran back into the house and grabbed a rifle and ran out and put the dog “out of her misery.”

Well, this was even more upsetting - that an adult person, my parent, my father, who one would hope, one could trust to do anything to save anyone at any moment in the idealism of a child would do something like this. And I was flooded with emotions. 

I think it becomes very important when we are talking to children about death to talk about things in age appropriate ways.

There is a level of truthfulness that I think is beneficial. But how and when all of that gets rolled out and under what condition becomes extremely important.

So, I was beginning to be highly traumatized by this situation. And the next question I blurted out through my tears and my sobbing was, “Where is she? Where is she now? Where is her body?”

My father could have said any number of things, and actually could have done any number of things.

But he told me that he had placed her in the trash can.

This traumatized me like nothing else could have at that moment, I think. I stood up and ran out of the house and ran directly to the back of our property where her dog house. I got on my hands and knees and crawled through the little door and curled up in her dog house. And I was sobbing and sobbing, and screaming and solving.

My father came out once and asked me to please come out of the dog house… and I would not comply. And he went back in the house.

I stayed out there. Lord knows how long. But it was starting to become dark it was starting to become very cold. I came in the house, and I didn't want dinner, I just washed up and went to bed.

Over the next couple of days, I began to draw these cartoon stories - stories about cars rushing to a veterinarian with an injured dog inside. Because it seemed unfathomable to me that my father did not try to save our dog by rushing her to the hospital.

Now, as an adult I know that sometimes that's not even possible. And I understand a whole lot more about my father and what would have been going on for him, and that he probably felt terrible, and all manner of things.

But it started to seem like everything about death, loss and grief was - separating and silent and dishonest on some level, and violent against connections between people.

And I was starting to have this impression that would continue to unfold in the third encounter I had with grief and death.

My third encounter with grief, was a couple of years later, I was a nine years old. I went to public school. Our classroom was relatively moderate in size and within that class we had boys who were twins. And I would occasionally play specifically with them. We’d play together on the playground at recess and would work together sometimes on school projects together.

I remember passing out Valentine's cards and planning what ones to give the twin boys. The Valentine's that I gave them would be different, not the same. Because when we think about something like that with twins. Do you give them the same cards or different ones? I chose different ones.

One day I came to school and both of their desks were empty. The teacher got up and told the classroom that the boys would not be coming back to school.

That the boys had been home playing on the weekend. And that one of them had found a family hand gun. He started playing with it, and accidentally shot the other twin.

And besides - that nothing more with said, except an announcement. Not to play with handguns or rifles if you were to come across any of your parents guns that you are not to play with them. And then we were to open our books and go on about our daily studies.

I remember sitting at my desk, and the whole world was starting to blur for me. Hot liquid tears started forming in my eyes. But again, I kind of understood the terror of the situation: that it was well beyond anything that we could talk about. And so I sat there, breathing heavily. I remember my breath so hot and so humid. And my face so, so, frozen, and yet somehow I was supposed to wrap my mind around these lessons. The rest of the day seemed like a blur.

What I finally began to see was this pattern. This pattern of insanity, this pattern of separation, of violence, of trauma.

And it would continue on.

These are the first three losses that I experienced and they certainly made me a little different than my cohort group at the time. I will have separate podcasts for the next losses that I experienced, because they're longer in nature. But just to summarize them 

1. at 12, my father passed away

2. at 15 I had a good high school friend who had a brain aneurysm and died

3. at 17 almost died in a car accident. 

4. at 20, I had a very good friend of mine commit suicide.

There's more after that but you're starting to see this pattern. And it was only a few years in between each traumatic loss. And part of it was traumatic because of the culture that surrounds the loss. 

Certainly these losses were very traumatic. 

But they were accompanied by a culture of silence.

Thank you for the honor of your attention. And thank you for listening.

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Podcast music - 

Little Things in Life by Tim Week

Their Story, Them Seeing by Puddle of Infinity

The Bluest Star by The 126ers

Thank you all musicians for your lovely and generous work.

Kim Gosney