The Tralfamadorian Philosophy

Last week when Mother's Day was approaching, I'd started feeling a bit despondent.  This has been a typical response for me ever since my mother passed away from cancer five years ago.  I feel it every year, every time I see a commercial on television advertising a young mother with her child, or when I walk into a Hallmark shop and see all of the Mother's Day cards prominently on display.  Even though I have effectively grieved the loss of my mother and I've learnt to accept my present life without her in it, it's still a bit of a twist in the gut.  If you've ever experienced the cataclysmic loss of a parent, I am sure you can understand.   

I have only recently reached a point where I’m able to think about my mom without my eyes instantly welling up with tears.  I have dreams where I’m with her, but I’m conscious of the fact that she’s no longer present.  It’s not her physical form, but I can interact with her and talk to her the same way I did when she was here on earth.  I used to be devastated when I woke up from those dreams, but now I try to focus on being grateful that I shared a few fleeting moments with her, and the fact that it was only within the realm of my subconscious mind is kind-of irrelevant. 

I guess interacting with my mom on that level gives me the same sort of peace that religious people feel when a loved one passes away.  A few years ago, my brother had said to me that he "felt so much peace, knowing that mom was in heaven”.  At the time, I felt envious of him and I wished I had that same level of conviction, so I could say with absolute certainly that I know there’s an afterlife where old people are forever young and sick people are eternally cured.  Who knows, I suppose it’s possible; if I’m being honest, I tend to think that’s something we only tell ourselves to deal with our grief as a way to avoid being overly traumatized by loss. I'm not saying it's wrong to think that way, because really, where’s the harm in it if it makes this life more bearable and easier to endure?  I understand the beauty of believing in heaven, it's just that, for some reason I can’t, and believe me, I’ve tried!

Anyway, I’m not trying to provoke a spiritual debate here, I’m just saying that my way of coping has now evolved to a point where I’ve begun to feel happy when I dream about my mother.  Furthermore, I’ve begun applying that same method of thinking to my conscious real-life memories of her as well. 

One of my all-time favourite authors, Kurt Vonnegut, wrote frequently about the Tralfamadorian Philosophy, in which the Tralfamadorians, a highly evolved alien race, could travel to specific moments within their lifetime and live indefinitely within those moments.  Whereas humans are obligated to follow a specific timeline, without moving forward or backward, slowing down or speeding up, they could choose any moment they wanted and stay there for any length of time they so desired.

Here’s a quote [from Vonnegut's 'Slaughterhouse Five'] that explains the gist of the philosophy fairly well: 

“As every person, their dates of birth and death are established, but the conscious wisdom of time has no limits. Also, the belief in destiny takes an important place. They can see future, but, in fact, they cannot influence what they can see. Even if they say that they have such opportunity to change future, in reality such possibility does not exist.”
“In order not to be disappointed with tragedies of life, the Tralfamadorians can experience it, and after that, live in that period which can be happier for them. Such possibilities give the reasons for an optimistic vision of life.  In addition to all this, it is possible to avoid the things which usually happen to ordinary people and make some negative impact on life. They can just pass by such important things as wars, death and even little problems without any desire to solve it.”

I guess what I like about that, and how I try to apply that philosophy to my own situation, is that as opposed to envisioning my mother in some unknown higher spiritual realm I try to visualize her as still present here on this earth.  I remember all of the best moments within the 30+ years that I knew her, I think about when she was at her happiest, and I imagine her there, alive and still existing within those moments in time.  That's why I love this picture of her so much, it was taken only a few months after she married my dad in 1966.  I like imagining her still there, curled up on that couch with my dad next to her, her whole life, three kids and forty-four years of a beautiful marriage still ahead of her.   

One of the hardest things for me to hear was the first time someone said to me “your mother was an extraordinary woman”.  It’s the “was” part that hurt like a kick to the face.  But when I think of mom as still existing, but just at a different point in our timelines, it brings me genuine comfort.  More importantly, it takes away some of the fear and apprehension I had about thinking of her.  For a while I was trying to suppress any memories of her because it was too painful, but now I’m slightly less afraid and a bit more willing to embrace my awareness of her, both in my dreams and within my conscious thoughts. 

Furthermore, thinking this way has made me more appreciative of the present, because I feel a greater sense of responsibility for the timeline I am creating.  I want my present self to be my happiest at this point in time so I can continue to exist here and now, even after my life has run its chronological course.

The truth is, I had a lot to celebrate on Mother's Day.  I have a wonderful father, an extraordinary step-mother who has fit into our family with remarkable ease, and a beautiful & supportive family.  I am so grateful for the people in my life who are still here and present.  That doesn't make me miss my mother any less, it's just that it's good to be reminded that, even amongst the heartache and the fragility of life, there are also moments of animated and infinite beauty still waiting to be lived.