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Through the Rearview

I have been reflecting on the concept of the word “afterlife” as portrayed in the Netflix show “Afterlife” starring Ricky Gervais. He presents a unique perspective on the passage of time and the impact of loss. Rather than delving into the supernatural, this show spotlights the profound journey of navigating life after a significant loss, like the death of a loved one. This prompted me to ponder the ways in which we are constantly living in the aftermath of our own experiences. Taking the term ‘afterlife’ and giving it a poignant twist. It’s about moving through life shadowed by loss, where each day is a step further from a past shared with someone dear.

This concept got me thinking. Life after death isn’t just about the person who’s gone; it extends to everything connected to them – relationships, pets, homes. It’s like we’re all ghosts of our past selves, haunted by memories and moments that once were. Every day, hour, and minute we’ve lived becomes a ghostly echo in our ‘afterlife.’ The process of dealing with such monumental changes, particularly in the wake of a death, is indeed a complex and often stormy odyssey. It’s a journey that can be deeply personal and universally relatable at the same time. As I embark on exploring this theme, I am faced with the challenge of choosing a starting point for such a vast and intricate topic. That’s the nature of such journeys. They’re not linear; they’re scattered like memories, like the pieces of ourselves we leave behind in our own personal ‘afterlives.’ The narrative seems to seek a creative pathway to unravel and articulate these thoughts further, taking me along “pock-potted roads” — a metaphorical landscape dotted with personal experiences and insights.

These pivotal moments in our lives often leave indelible marks, etching themselves into our memories with striking clarity. They can stem from a variety of experiences – the profound loss of a loved one, the transition of moving to a new place, the evolution or dissolution of friendships, or the life-changing event of welcoming a child into the world. In the context of this essay, such moments have not just been mere points in time; they have been significant crossroads, directing me onto paths vastly different from what I had envisioned. These are the experiences that have sculpted the contours of the life I now navigate – a life molded and altered by these critical junctures, shaping my journey through this afterlife of change and adaptation.

I was just 17 when my dad passed away. He was significantly older than my mom, 22 years her senior, and his health was always a concern. A lifetime habit of smoking since he was 9 had left him with chronic heart and respiratory issues, leading to frequent hospital stays. Despite this, the reality of losing a parent is something you can never truly brace yourself for.

It happened on a Sunday, one that happened to follow Thanksgiving. That morning, my mom asked me to check if Dad was awake for breakfast. I found him dozing in his armchair, still breathing. We continued our morning routine. I vividly recall reaching for a slice of leftover cherry pie when suddenly, the tempo of life shifted.

My mom rushed back from checking on Dad, her voice laced with panic, saying he wasn’t breathing. Time seemed to fracture, each second stretching and blurring, like scenes from an old, flickering movie. We called 911 in a frenzy, waiting agonizingly for the ambulance. But nothing prepared me for the sight of my dad, lifeless in his chair, the hum of his oxygen machine a stark contrast to the stillness of a body that had slipped away from its need for air.

In the wake of my dad’s passing, life shifted into a less comfortable gear. The sense of security I once had felt abruptly yanked away, leaving me to grapple with the stark reality that life would never be the same again. For a time, I moved through my days mechanically, harboring a hope that emotions and life would somehow recalibrate on their own. But that restoration never came. Instead, it was filed away under the unresolved moments in life.

Let’s turn back the clock to a time 11 years before my father’s passing. At the tender age of six, my life took a dramatic turn when my dad decided to relocate us from a Pennsylvania suburb to a secluded part of South Jersey. His lifelong dream? To own a horse farm. Previously, he had only managed to board horses and compete in sulky racing. He eventually found his dream in a 10-acre property, which came with a modest house.

As a skilled carpenter, my dad transformed the land over the years. He constructed a barn, added a second story to the garage, built fences for the pastures, and even erected a deck and a pool. He began a playhouse for my brother and me, though it remained an unfinished project. Our farm bustled with life – horses, goats, chickens, rabbits, and a sprawling vegetable garden nurtured by my mom. Life felt abundantly rich.

However, as my dad’s health began to deteriorate, the farm lost its vibrancy. It grew dim, like a forgotten corner on a colorful map. The once lively world I knew gradually faded, mirroring the decline of my father’s health.

In the wake of my father’s death, the fabric of our family life began to unravel. My mother, who had dedicated her life to being a stay-at-home mom, found herself adrift in a sea of uncertainty and financial woes. The modest pension my dad left behind provided a temporary lifeline, but it was a fleeting reprieve. The months following his passing were a blur of decisions she never thought she’d have to make. Her world, once defined by the routines of home life, was now clouded by invoices and mounting responsibilities.

For a brief period, my mother turned to selling Hummels, those delicate porcelain figurines, as a way to make ends meet. It was a saddening endeavor, each sale a small letting go of a piece of the past. But the effort was like bailing water from a sinking ship with a teacup – earnest but insufficient. Eventually, the inevitable reality set in, she needed a job. This transition, from homemaker to breadwinner, was a tumultuous one. Meanwhile, the house, once a symbol of our family’s unity and my father’s dreams, began to mirror our internal chaos. Neglect crept into its corners like unwelcome shadows, with repairs left undone and care postponed.

At 17, the age where most teenagers are preoccupied with high school dramas and college applications, I found myself grappling with a maturity beyond my years. It became painfully clear that my mother lost in her own grief and overwhelmed by newfound responsibilities, was letting things slip away – bills unpaid, impulsive purchases on QVC, a home slowly decaying. This realization hit me with the force of a wake-up call.

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