So my mother calls me on September 3rd, 2009 to let me know that Michael Jackson was finally buried. I get on MSN’s homepage and there they were: links to photos and video from the burial. With my iPod ironically on depressing music, I browsed through the photos. You could feel the somber mood through every photograph. Everything felt so still. Frozen. Quiet. Pictures of brothers, sisters, friends and children whose slew of happy memories must now always end with this moment. The golden casket, the white flowers, the green “grass” carpet, eulogies, tears and tombstones.
I saw more burial news footage on YouTube. Associated videos were clips of other celebrities who had passed, like the R&B singer and actress, Aaliyah. I hadn’t seen footage of Aaliyah alive in years, and there were several videos of her being interviewed. I watched one interview that was few minutes long and, for those few minutes, I literally forgot she was gone. I got so wrapped up in the interview; just like I would if she was alive and I was seeing it for the first time. She was alluring, witty, sassy, coy, cool, and beautiful; just like I knew her to be before she died and I met the “new version” of Aaliyah: the “version” of her that’s no longer here. Minutes after reacquainting myself with the “old” Aaliyah, I got confronted with “new” one in a hard, cold, icy way. There was footage of someone visiting her burial site. They were completely silent as they walked into the mausoleum and arrived at her gravesite. It’s been 8 years, and I had never seen her gravesite. Pain hit my stomach and I instantly burst into tears. I cried on and off for hours.
I just got her back. It was the 1st time in 8 years that I had seen (or remembered) her out of the context of her death; the 1st time I ever FORGOT she was gone. For a moment she was alive, well and here with us, and seeing that gravesite was like someone ripped her away from me all over again. Like she turned into dust and fell through my fingers. It was a sudden, harsh reminder that she was DEAD. GONE. That interview wasn’t current. All that’s left of her is a marble wall, encased by a golden gate with her name on it, with a bunch of pretty flowers in front. I started to cry even harder as I thought about Michael. I was angry; so upset –I didn’t want to know Michael in “that way.” I didn’t want to know this “new” version of Michael.
The Person You Become When You Die.
Michael was a symbol of something true and special to me: the magic, the wonderment, the innocence and the bright rose-colored glow that was the happier memories of my childhood. Once a symbol of the aforementioned, he was now a symbol of loss, sadness and hurt. He was now one of those “gone” people. One of those people who would now be memorialized every time he’s mentioned or thought about. One of those people who would be featured in a “gone, but not forgotten” painting.
It’s a fascinating thing, the person you become when you die. No matter how eventful and full your life was, all that matters is the fact that you’re gone. You’re a tombstone now. How you died is the most notable or memorable thing you did, or what anybody talks about. Even if people reflect on the highlights of your life, it’s always gotta end with some depressing statement like “they were gone too soon”, “I can’t believe their gone”, “too bad they’re not here anymore, or “where were you when you got the news?”
Perfect example: when I saw “This Is It”, I was on a high. He felt so alive to me. I thought I’d be depressed, but instead I felt uplifted. The movie reminded me of why I love music so much in the 1st place, and why Michael Jackson is the blueprint for how to be a consummate artist and a master of your craft. The Michael I knew- the 1st and only version I ever knew before June 25, 2009-was with me. That “new” version didn’t exist. And just when I got comfortable in my high, my friend says “It’s so sad that talent isn’t here anymore.” There was the reminder.
The 2nd example: I was watching the “Dangerous” tour DVD with my mom, and just as my heart smiled and my eyes glimmered with awe, she says “It’s just hard to believe he’s gone.”
Just as I said before, the sweet memories keep ending with this “new” version of him. It hurts so bad. I don’t want to get to know this “new” version, the person he became when he died. I want to keep my friend Michael just the way he was. I don’t want all my happy memories to turn into reasons why it’s sad he’s gone. I want my memories to stay as reasons why I love him. My friends keep telling me that my memories and everything else can stay as they were, and that a person’s death does not define them. Sometimes this makes me feel better. Other times, I feel like I have no choice but to accept and think about the “new” version. It’s like I don’t have an option. How can I NOT think about their death? If I were reading a book about their life, the book would always end with their death. That’s where it all stops, where it all ends. IT’S NOT FAIR! I don’t want to have to think about this. I don’t want to read that chapter. Why does that even have to be a part of the book? Why do we ever have to die in the 1st place?
To avoid pain and preserve a person’s memory (and their place in my heart) the way it should be, I won’t read that last chapter. I’ll just read the chapter before it and stop. Call it denial if you want. It’s how I’m going to survive this. Oh, but wait. Denial doesn’t work. Denial is what got me crying for hours once I saw Aaliyah’s gravesite to begin with (I avoided ever seeing it, and frankly, avoided thoughts of her as much as possible). You apparently have to “deal” with the death and address it to cope successfully. My problem is that I don’t know HOW to “deal” or “cope” with it in a way that’s “healthy.” Either I’m in stone denial and I avoid thinking of the person altogether (Aaliyah), or I let my grief and the memory of the death overtake my joyous memories (Michael). Grief is even harder when it involves something or someone that has ALWAYS been there. I came out of the womb knowing Michael Jackson. A world without him is an unfamiliar world to me. It’s a world I have a difficult time adapting to because I don’t know how to be here. It doesn’t feel good. It’s a new, different world, with a new, different life. A life that runs the risk of being consumed with grieving him and keeping his memory respectfully and lovingly intact. For a second, my life was consumed with grieving Aaliyah. It was like “How do I go back to the life I had before this? How do you come back from hurting so bad, or losing something that feels so essential to your life?” I don’t like all of these “new” issues. I obviously have a hard time reconciling the 2 versions of people that have passed away. Maybe I shouldn’t be trying to reconcile them at all. Maybe the problem is that I think they become a different person when they die. Does anyone have “healthy” grieving down to a science or have it figured out? Please let me know what your theory is if you do. Maybe I’ll figure out something that works for me as I go through process of grieving Michael. Perhaps when it’s the 8th anniversary of his death (Aaliyah’s was August 25, 2009), I won’t see his gravesite and burst into tears because of denial. Maybe it won’t take me 8 years to look at the gravesite. For now, I’m going to focus on the words of Aaliyah and Michael’s siblings, Rashad and Janet. Rashad and Janet both testified to be extremely close to their siblings; perhaps I’ll find my way to solace by listening to them.
“…she is with me; if I allow her to be. I can smile again if I let the memory of her presence on this earth exist as a gift, and not a loss.”- Rashad Haughton, 2001
“You don’t have to hold on to the pain to hold on to the memory.”-Janet Jackson