Far Away Across the Field, the Tolling of the Iron Bell; On Mental Illness and Grief

“Very hard to explain why you’re mad. Even if you’re not mad.” -Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon 
I had been packing my things, ready to move into a new house, and I came across a diary from 2014, my first year of graduate school, and the year I had a psychiatric breakdown and was committed to Upstate, which I have written about here in past blogs. This is from that diary. My cousin Matthew Doran died in 2012, at age 31, and the entry is about him.

The week before cousin Seamus’ wedding to his fiancee Mara, I woke up on Thursday morning; I had to go to campus. I felt like listening to Breathe on Dark Side of the Moon, by Pink Floyd. I haven’t heard it in so long. So I put my record on, and cranked the volume. Later on, I went with Diane to Sangha. Our meditation leader put on a DVD of Thich Nat Hanh, who spoke (Diane always interprets the videos in sign language) about the importance of breathing. Breathe. Diane kept signing. Breathe.

The next day, I called the hotel in Canfield, Ohio, where we were staying for Seamus’ wedding, to make reservations. I was put on hold and while waiting, I was texting with Seamus’ mother, Margi, and was on Facebook messenger with his brother Ryan, in Ireland. Seamus and Ryan are Matthew’s brothers, and Margi his mother. The muzak version of Breathe started playing over the phone. “That’s odd,” I typed to Ryan, since I had just listened to it. I remembered then, that the last time I had really played that record, blasted it over the speakers and really enjoyed it, was when I was 18, the day I moved into my first apartment in Utica, with Matthew. My father was there, too, helping me move in. I put on Breathe after we had hooked up the record player. “This is a great album,” Dad said.

Breathe, breathe in the air, don’t be afraid to care
Leave, but don’t leave me
Look around and choose your own ground
For long you’ll live, and high you’ll fly
And smiles you’ll give
and tears you’ll cry
and all you touch and all you see
is all your life will ever be

When I got home from Sangha that night, I played Dark Side of the Moon again, and I cried. I cried and cried. I felt the pain, the pain of Matt dying. I allowed myself to feel it. I never let myself do that; I am too afraid. I am too afraid to feel.

The next day, I was messaging on my phone outside on the porch with cousin Anne about financial troubles. I heard, coming from the house next door, Money, from Dark Side of the Moon, being played. I had to laugh. I haven’t heard these songs in ages. Seemed like Matt’s sense of humor coming through. I texted Margi and told her. The wedding of Matt’s brother Seamus was coming so soon. We were all sad that Matt would not be there.

I had been thinking so much about capitalism around this time. The system, and how as a mentally ill and disabled person I cannot do it, I cannot fit in. Matt was on disability, and money was always tight. Capitalism does not favor the disabled, it teaches that we have value only if we are productive within the system of money. Capitalism and disability have long been at odds. Money is really a joke, and Irish humor always finds a way to laugh at the grim aspects of life.

Margi told me that Matt had been communicating with her through music around this time as well. “His ringtone was Stairway to Heaven,” she said. Margi had been hearing the song play at points throughout the weeks leading up to Seamus’ wedding.

I never said I was afraid to die. I’m not afraid to die. Anytime is fine with me. We all gotta go sometime.

The wedding was wonderful, it came and went, and was a memorable time. Then last night was Sangha again. I met Diane, as I do every Thursday, at 6pm at Hoople, her office. As we left to walk to the parking garage, she pointed out the full moon in the dark night sky. The upstate night sky, the dark black clouds outlined in gray alternately obscuring and revealing the white moon. The sky was so black. Bells began ringing from the nearby Setnor School of Music. I thought of A Christmas Carol, the bells that ring at night to signal to Scrooge that another ghost is coming. Life. Death. Past, present and future. “I think those bells are playing a Chanukah song,” Diane said. I looked up at the moon. “Ah, that is why I have been feeling this way,” I said, because I have been having very vivid dreams. The full moon always affects me. It had been almost a year since I last spoke to Matt.

If your head explodes with dark forebodings too, I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon. 

Diane and I walked to the parking garage. Earlier in the day, my room mate Jennifer mentioned that the crows had returned to Syracuse. Diane and I were on the fourth floor of the garage, and she was putting things in the back of the car. The sky had turned purple. I could see it through the long, open area where there is a window in the concrete. Suddenly, a murder of crows flew by. There were so many of them. “The crows!”I exclaimed, and ran to the edge of the window to watch them fill the sky. I could see that Diane smiled. I wondered to myself where the crows went and thought about how I must try to find them, to perhaps befriend them. Of course, they are my ancestral bird. Corbett comes from the Latin, corvo, for crow or raven. There is a raven on our family crest and the motto is God feeds the ravens. Black hair runs in the Corbett family. Raven-haired. Diane and I got in the car, and as we drove to Sangha, I saw that some of the crows had settled in a small grassy area, in trees, between two buildings. The buildings of the nearby psychiatric center.

We got to Sangha and Goethe’s poem To the Moon came to me. I asked our meditation leader if I could read it aloud. We started Sangha with the poem: Bush and vale thou fill’st again/With thy misty ray, And my spirit’s heavy chain/Castest far away. Thou dost o’er my fields extend/Thy sweet soothing eye, Watching like a gentle friend, O’er my destiny. Vanish’d days of bliss and woe/ Haunt me with their tone, Joy and grief in turns I know, As I stray alone.

Then the talk by Thich Nat Han. It was about learning to feel your suffering. To embrace it and care for it. Not to run away from it. Not to distract yourself from feeling it. Feel your suffering, do not be afraid of it. You can lessen the suffering of others, but you can only heal it in yourself.

During Dharma sharing, I spoke of how I had fallen into the pain and suffering I have felt over the loss of Matthew, and how I have been trying to feel it more. And as I have, my dreams are changing. I am no longer a victim, as Thich said. I am no longer running. I am fighting back and taking control. I was often trapped in my dreams, and now I am breaking free and escaping. I have been so wary of the full moon because it brings everything to light. And it is hard. The moon illuminates all things. Now I am embracing the full moon. I am welcoming it.

For nothing hidden will not become manifest, and nothing covered will remain without being uncovered. All things are plain in the sight of heaven.- Jesus, from the Gospel of Thomas

That was the end of the diary entry.

Dark Side of the Moon is about life and death and madness, particularly the madness of former band member Syd Barrett, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia, as was my cousin Matt. Matthew taught me so much about mental health, as I too, have mental illness. I told him once, “I have been wanting to tell you for many years that I hallucinate, too. I know what it’s like.” I had been too shy to bring it up before. Matt was never one to mince words. “Yeah,” he replied genuinely. “It’s hard.” That was the last time I saw him before he died. It was Christmas Eve, 2011. Matt died the following Spring.

Consider the work of God, For who is able to straighten what He has bent? What has been is remote and exceedingly mysterious. Who can discover it? -Ecclesiastes 7:13

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