Thomas Wictor

A very hard night

A very hard night

It was a very hard night, the worst since Mom died. I listened to people on the radio discuss their experiences with evil spirits, being possessed, having demons make them look like old women, and all manner of meretricious claptrap. The host had that super-earnest quality, like he was trying his damnedest to get across the horror that these poor people went through.

They all had Websites, Facebook accounts, Twitter feeds, books to sell, and speaking tours to go on. You could argue that I’m exactly the same as they are, without the speaking tours. Here’s what I think makes me different.

Check out how I come across when I talk into a microphone or camera. Are there any dramatic pauses? Sighing? Do my eyes well up? Do I whisper? Do you detect any falsity or shtick? Am I milking anything?

I don’t know if demons possess people. What I do know is that they don’t possess those people I heard on the radio. They were far too boring to attract even the most hard-up demon.

Real horror is your parents killing themselves because they couldn’t face the reality of their treatments. By accepting that they needed to be treated, they first had to acknowledge that they’d contracted deadly diseases. I now understand that neither of my parents thought they would ever die. When they found out that they were not only dying but doing so rapidly, they went to pieces.

I saw the worst of Dad, and Tim saw the worst of Mom. I saw Dad scream and run, and Tim saw Mom cry and try to remove the painless oxygen mask that kept her alive.

The “formerly possessed” shysters on the radio last night have no clue what horror is. Nothing they said had anything to do with others. It was all about them. Try watching your parents lose all their courage and become weeping children rescued only by comas. I can’t imagine how traumatic it would’ve been if they were conscious at the moment of death.

Mom and Dad’s deaths changed how I view them. It’s clear that for my entire life, my perception of them was off. I keep wanting to tell them things—such as the absurd brown nosing I have to do to get my Website on search engines. It’d crack them up.

Or so I thought. Maybe they were just pretending to care about anything their children did.

In retrospect they devoted most of their energy to distracting themselves from thoughts of death. Each had his or her own strategy. Dad worked like an animal until we kept having to put him in intensive care, and Mom got vaguer, more cheerful, and more absorbed in ancestry.

Now, almost every conversation we had has been called into question. There were moments of reality, but they happened only when my parents dropped their guard. I did connect with them a handful of times. I’m sure of that.

On my periodic tours of their houses and my inspection of the possessions they left behind after eighty-five years, I find that I have no patience whatsoever for stories of demonic possession, alien abductions, secret government armies, and whatever other bugs people have up their tailpipes.

Those who displace will die as badly as my parents. No question.

I know why my parents died the way they did. Dad was tortured with death-worship. His earliest memory was being awoken in the middle of the night and taken to a farm where a pale green man was laid out on a kitchen table as women in black sat around him, howling. Dad’s father sang him this lullaby in German, which Dad understood.

O, you dear Augustin,
Augustin, Augustin,
O, you dear Augustin,
All is lost!

Money’s gone, girlfriend’s gone,
All is lost, Augustine,
O, you dear Augustin,
All is lost!


Coat is gone, staff is gone,
Augustin lies in the dirt.
O, you dear Augustin,
All is lost!


Even that rich town Vienna,
Is broke like Augustin;
Shed tears with thoughts akin,
All is lost!


Every day was a feast,
Now we just have the plague!
Just a great corpse’s feast,
That is the rest.


Augustin, Augustin,
Lay down in your grave!
O, you dear Augustin,
All is lost!

The song dates from the Vienna plague of 1678-1679. Augustin got drunk and fell asleep on the sidewalk one night, and the morning corpse-collectors put him in the cart among the genuine dead. Augustin awoke before he could be buried, scaring the heck out of the grave diggers. As a result the news spread among the Viennese that alcoholism prevented death, a notion my father internalized as a toddler.

It’s harder to figure out why Mom was so afraid to die. The most likely answer is that she was sent to a Catholic boarding school where the nuns were very strict. As a sensitive five-year-old suddenly among strangers, Mom had to learn things like Ejaculations to Jesus Suffering: For the Sick and Dying, which contains the following:

Good Jesus, nailed motionless by Thy sacred Hands and Feet for love of me; keep me still, motionless, unmoved, unshaken, cleaving fast to Thee…

O Eternal Father! I am Thy most unworthy servant, whom thou hast so loved that Thou gavest Thy dearly-beloved Son to die for me. Deal mercifully with Thy servant in this hour, lest the precious Blood be shed for me in vain. For what profit is there to me in my Saviour’s Blood, if I go down to corruption?

Oh! seek Thy servant, for I have gone astray like a sheep that is lost. Let not that roaring lion, that goeth about seeking whom he may devour, snatch me and tear me from Thee[.]

From what Mom told me about her time in boarding school, the approach was to scare the children into behaving. Being a rebel Mom engaged in passive resistance for as long as I knew her, but in the end, her early training came back to convince her that she was headed for perdition.

I don’t “blame” my grandparents for instilling a lifelong fear of death in their children. However, as one of the two sons who had to participate in my parents’ horrific, prolonged suicides, I get to speculate about why people could live eighty-five years and then die in terror. As someone whose own life was without a doubt shortened due to the ravages of the past nine months, I get to talk about this.

The takeaway for me is to reassure children. A man I know once visited my parents when he was four years old. Playing in the back yard, we smelled a foul odor in the bushes. He wanted to know what it was. I told him that something—a cat or a possum—had died. He asked to find the body, but his parents wouldn’t allow it. After we went inside, the boy kept going to the back door, looking out, and saying, “What died in the bushes?”

Finally, his father said, “If you mention that one more time, you’re going to get a spanking!”

He wasn’t my child; I was in no position to interfere. After my parents’ guests left, I told my mother that I wanted her to invite them back soon, and I’d show the boy a lightbulb. We’d put it into a socket and turn it on, and I’d tell him that our bodies were like the lightbulb. When the electricity goes into the bulb, the bulb gives off light. Bulbs eventually burn out. Our bodies have a kind of electricity, called the soul, which makes us shine. When the body burns out like a lightbulb, the soul—like electricity—lives on.

“No, don’t do that,” Mom said. “You’ll only scare him.”

She was wrong. I knew the boy very well. It wouldn’t have scared him. Mom was talking about herself. But I did as she and the boy’s parents wanted and didn’t speak of it again. Today, the man is exactly like my parents. He was transformed, and he’s gone to extraordinary lengths to prove that he’ll never die. Which means that he’s terrified of dying.

If I could cast a spell and make everyone as untroubled as I am at the notion of dying, I wouldn’t do it. Yes, though I could spare the world needless suffering, I think that for your own development, it’s necessary for you to wrestle with this issue. Imposing my lack of fear on you wouldn’t be moral.

But it’s all right for me to say that you don’t have to be afraid. In my opinion. You are loved. The system is benign. All will be well.

I promise.

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