Ending a Life

I was starting to get tired of the patriarch of my The Sims 3 family, so I ended his life. He was an elder, a grandfather, he’d already accomplished his lifelong goal, and he wasn’t playing a useful role in my game anymore. It was simply time for him to go. All I had to do was use the “testingcheatsenabled true” cheat code, shift-click on him, and select “trigger age transition” to make him die of old age (earlier than he would have if I’d left it up to the game).

He went peacefully. He greeted, shook hands with, and even smiled at Death – literally. This sim was as ready to go as I was to get rid of him.

Alexander III greets Death happily, ready to move on, while his wife Elaine watches.

Alexander III greets Death happily, ready to move on, while his wife Elaine watches.

I could have moved on to the vacation I’ve been planning for rest of the family, if it were not for their (entirely understandable and quite realistic) reaction to the patriarch’s passing. The look on Elaine’s face in the above picture says it all. She is so hurt and terrified as she gazes at Death – and at her own future. Not only will she have to spend the rest of her life without her lifelong partner, but she will probably follow in his footsteps soon.

The elder couple’s adult son and daughter-in-law, both of whom were at work when Alexander III died, came home as soon as they found out, too distraught to be much use. Considering he is a substitute teacher and she is a medical intern, it makes a lot of sense for them to take off from work and avoid having a negative impact on their vulnerable students and patients, respectively. (Not to mention, you know, tending to their own and Elaine’s emotional needs. I almost left that part out!)

The two children in the household, however, remained in school and even attended their after-school activities, both oblivious to the patriarch’s death until they arrived home at the normal time. I’m not sure whether this is how most families would handle the situation, or whether it is truly congruent with my own experience. Maybe it’s what I wish I could have done or tried to do: postpone dealing with the truth and my emotions for as long as possible by focusing on school. Somehow I have the perception that adults – at least in the Sims 3 universe – think this is how best to help children cope with death. All the surviving adults have an automatic memory: “Alexander III Died” – but the children never received it.

Elaine spent the next day sleeping, while her son (Alexander IV – creative, I know!) and daughter-in-law (Li-Ying) took off from work. The children had to go to school because there is no option to call out sick or otherwise get permission to take off, and the grade consequence for missing a day is fairly dire.

They had a funeral that evening. It was as simple a gathering as one can have when a good portion of the first floor of one’s house is a giant banquet hall; Elaine served absolutely fantastic spaghetti and tomato sauce (and, in the process of making it, reached the maximum skill level in Cooking). Originally I was just going to post a couple of pictures to give a basic idea of what the funeral looked like, but then I realized something:

Every sim’s reaction to the patriarch’s death, as I chose to represent it, is an aspect of my own reaction to the deaths in my family – particularly the death of my father.

Alexander IV cries on Li-Ying's shoulder, mourning his father.

Alexander IV cries on Li-Ying’s shoulder, mourning his father.

First, you have the obvious: the Mourning Son, who cries on his wife’s shoulder. What do we have, if we can’t lean on the people we love, and who love us?

Typically, in Western culture (and perhaps others), it is expected that a man will be stoic, that he will not cry. If he does cry, either he is weak, or something truly horrible has happened. This sim has the Disciplined personality trait, suggesting that he usually has good control over his emotions. For him to cry … Clearly, he is in a lot of pain.

I think, in my own life, it has generally been my role to be the eye of the storm – the semblance of calm sanity in the midst of chaos.

In my darkest hour, I couldn’t cry. When I’m feeling the most vulnerable, I do everything in my power to keep from feeling and expressing my emotions. So, I see crying as a sign of great strength. Something horrible has happened, and this sim has the strength and courage to be completely honest about it – with himself, and with his wife.

He is also in a place where it is safe for him to cry. That’s something I don’t always feel I have; I wonder whether / to what degree men (and women, and folk who don’t identify as either) can relate?

Li-Ying comforts her husband; though sad herself, she thinks she can only imagine what he must be feeling.

Li-Ying comforts her husband; though sad herself, she thinks she can only imagine what he must be feeling.

At the funeral, Li-Ying is finally able to cry on the shoulder of someone who does not need her support: a friend from work.

At the funeral, Li-Ying is finally able to cry on the shoulder of someone who does not need her support: a friend from work.

Next, there is the Comforter: the person whose shoulder is cried on. Whatever she may be feeling, whatever she may need, whatever support she may (hope to?) receive later, in this moment, her role is to support someone else. She sets her needs aside and holds the other person – whose need to cry she perceives as greater and/or more important than her own.

There is definitely a sense of hierarchy in this role, and of being at or near the bottom of the totem pole. The daughter-in-law is in a particularly difficult position. She was close enough with the patriarch to feel a great deal of pain at his passing, but her relationship with him was not as significant as the relationship between father and son. It would not be appropriate for her to lean on her husband, who has enough pain of his own, or on her child, whom she feels obligated to protect. Even though she has known the patriarch longer, she feels her child has even more of a right to mourn than she herself does – after all, it was the child’s grandfather who died!

The comforter may not receive support until there is someone present with less of a relationship to the deceased than herself: in this case, one of her friends from work who came to the funeral to support her emotionally. At the funeral, the appropriate behavior is to be sad and to cry. The comforter is finally free to be comforted by the guests who came to give the whole family their condolences.

Surrounded by the guests at the funeral, Elaine is completely unable to connect with them. All she can feel or think about is her sorrow.

Surrounded by the guests at the funeral, Elaine is completely unable to connect with them. All she can feel or think about is her sorrow.

The Ghost: Elaine stands in the middle of the party, surrounded by everyone she invited to celebrate her husband’s life and mourn his passing. People are enjoying the delicious food she cooked. They are talking. They are even dancing! The whole room around her is so full of life …

But she sees, hears, and feels none of it. All she knows is the pain she feels; how much she misses him; how devastated she is to have to go on without him. She feels like her life is over; none of this has any meaning for her anymore.

And worst, they seem oblivious to her plight, almost as though she is invisible. She can imagine them walking right through her. Clearly, they can go on living their lives without her. She can just fade away into the shadows. “From dust, to dust you shall return.” Their lives will go on; you will not be missed.

I was thinking of having her be the next to die, through the same means as the patriarch. This is intended to be a kid-friendly game, so we’ll say she died of a combination of old age and “heartache.”

This is the part of myself I have to fight, more frequently than I care to admit, to stay alive.

Ruth pours drinks for the guests to enjoy, feeling detached from "their" sorrow.

Ruth pours drinks for the guests to enjoy, feeling detached from “their” sorrow.

The Servant: So far, I have gone out of my way to avoid mentioning this character. But then I thought: “she is my voice in this narrative.”

Ruth – the resident “cleaning specialist” – is the one who feels sad because the people around her are hurting, but is not particularly sad about the patriarch’s departure herself. (She is my voice in the narrative because I chose to end the patriarch’s life, but am saddened by the realistic – if exaggerated – expressions of sorrow by the sims.)

She would not even be at the funeral – or involved with the family at all – if it were not her job. She goes through the motions out of respect – and fear – but she finds no meaning in them.

The secret she holds near to her heart, and will never admit to anyone, is that she is actually happy that the patriarch – her employer – has “moved on.” She is now free from his authority. When the Servant looks at her future following the patriarch’s death, she sees less constraint in every aspect of her life. She sees herself able to let her guard down a bit, able to be more spontaneous, possibly even able to prioritize her own wants, needs, and values.

The Servant is the part of me that believes the deaths that have occurred in my family – particularly the death of my father – have actually had a positive effect on my life. I don’t know what kind of person I’d be if he were still alive to influence and possibly constrain my decisions. But I do know that I’ve been able to determine my own beliefs and values – and live by them more genuinely – since he died; his death caused my links to members of that family, as well as to traditional patriarchal religion, to be severed.

It is important to note that Ruth is a Black woman of lower socioeconomic status than the wealthy, predominantly White family she serves. This observation is not meant to cast judgment upon any individuals or groups, but to reflect the intersecting systems of racism, sexism, and class-ism that still:

  • privilege white people, while oppressing people of color
  • privilege cis men, while oppressing trans men, cis women, trans women, and people who don’t fit into any of these categories
  • privilege the wealthy, while oppressing those who are impoverished by the former’s wealth

and so on … to do justice to this topic would go very far beyond the scope of this post. I’ll just ask this one question: Why should the needs, wants, and values of wealthy white male society take precedence over the needs, wants, and values anyone else might have?

It’s so tempting to just end the post here, but I … I need to say this:

Brandi enjoys the delicious food served at the funeral, paying little attention to what is going on around her.

Brandi enjoys the delicious food served at the funeral, paying little attention to what is going on around her.

Sometimes, “I’m just here for the food” – or, rather, I (frequently) use food to manage difficult emotions.

For example, when I finish typing this sentence, I’m going to go grab myself a snack …

Sometimes the difficult emotions come from within me: just now, I needed something to distract from the anxiety I feel about revealing these deep, inner, hidden parts of myself – coherently, in writing! Not only do I have to look at them a lot more closely than I’d like, but I also have to show them to you. I’m afraid of what you might think about them, and what the consequences will be for me. I can’t even be sure I’m portraying them accurately.

I often overeat at social events in my efforts to manage my anxiety about interacting with multiple people, many of whom I might not know well.

Other times, the difficult emotions (at least seem to) come from other people. It might be from the general chaos of multiple conversations going on at once, or it might be more sinister.

Funerals are particularly difficult because everyone is (probably) struggling with much if not all of the range of responses I’ve been describing, plus others: anger, guilt, sadness, feeling abandoned, denial, etc. After a while – sometimes sooner than others – it becomes too much. Like Brandi (Ruth’s daughter) I just need to focus on an extremely satisfying sensory experience and block everything else out.

Yuan cannot even bear to be present at her grandfather's funeral. She escapes to the kitchen and plays with her imaginary friend instead.

Yuan cannot even bear to be present at her grandfather’s funeral. She escapes to the kitchen and plays with her imaginary friend instead.

Last, but not least, there is the Deserter.

(not to be confused with the desserter – that’s Brandi)

I’m inclined to argue that this is the least healthy part of myself – even more dangerous than the Ghost.

So far, I have been dealing with the Ghost effectively. It hasn’t always been easy – often, I’ve felt unsuccessful – but I have been able to do it.

My proof? I’m still here.

The Deserter, in contrast, regularly wins our confrontations and has the potential to destroy my life. It operates on so many levels, where do I even begin?

The Deserter is when I spend multiple entire days playing The Sims 3. It is escapism. The danger? I neglect everything else: all my other obligations, even important aspects of my physical and especially mental health.

But it goes deeper than that: It tries to sabotage my interpersonal relationships. It tests people, tries to push them away by making my behavior unbearable. It breaks promises. It shows up late – or not at all.

It convinces me that I am not like them; I cannot trust them; I don’t deserve them.

But it goes deeper than that: It severs me from myself.

I feel detached from my emotions. I have loud, verbally abusive arguments with myself (in my mind). I question myself, criticize myself harshly.

I have trouble perceiving and accepting that I am a person: a unique, individual, embodied being in this world that others can perceive, interact with, respond to, and maybe even like. I don’t know what I think I am … maybe that’s the problem.

Maybe I think I’m not.

Sometimes reality is so painful that I don’t want to be real. I’d rather write stories about one or more fictional characters, or play out a story someone else has written. I can’t identify with or even see (accurately) the person everyone else around me is interacting with, and through which I’m trying to have some connection with the outside world …

Speaking of stories, there is hope for Elaine. As I said, I was planning to “trigger age transition” to make her die of old age early, too. But then, something remarkable happened:

I had her bring her husband’s remains to the graveyard, where she found a nice open area for him. After she had mourned him, she got a new Wish: to learn the Writing skill.

She could write about her experiences and emotions and possibly influence other sims. There was still room for her to learn new things and to grow; she had not stagnated.

Elaine begins writing her first book, a reflection on her recent experiences titled: "To Lose the One You Love."

Elaine begins work on her first book – a reflection on her recent experiences titled: “To Lose the One You Love.”

She can leave her own unique legacy through her words.

Virtual Mansion: Escapism, or Canvas for Creativity?

Depending on your perspective, I was either entirely unproductive, or extremely productive over the past couple of days.

The case for unproductive: schoolwork, household chores, errands, organizing all the stuff that was displaced in the move, training for the overnight walk, even updating this blog, etc. – EVERYTHING ground to a halt. If it is at all meaningful in the “real world,” then I took no part in it. (Am I proud of this? No. But I think I needed a break.)

The case for extremely productive: I built a mansion from scratch … in The Sims 3. Okay, so I had a very strong sense of what I wanted to do going into the project, but I did everything – from clearing the lot I wanted to build on, to moving in the family that’s going to live there and placing a few last-minute items – in 2 days.

I built this 4-story mansion in 2 days!

From left to right, the mansion includes: a 2-car garage with a game room on the second floor and grilling/party space on the roof; a barn capable of housing up to 6 horses; an art studio; a garden for fruits and vegetables; a gorgeous 2-story entryway and banquet hall; a giant library with multiple rooms; 7 bedrooms; 2 kitchens; a state-of-the-art gym; a very large, gorgeous bathroom multiple sims can use at once and still have privacy; a hot tub and pool with grilling/party space; and a children’s play space.

Best of all, I got to listen to some truly awesome music while doing it! 🙂

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Daily Prompt: Undo – Smash the Clock!

Daily Prompt: Undo | The Daily Post.

If you could un-invent something, what would it be? Discuss why, potential repercussions, or a possible alternative.

I would get rid of the clock. It drives me crazy, especially when it imposes deadlines. I can’t deposit my check because the bank closes at 5. I have to be in class at 5:30 or I’m late – I’ve experienced so much anxiety and self-hatred from that! The best is when something has to be completed by 11:59:59 pm – 1 second can be the difference between success and failure.

Right now I’m feeling depressed and paralyzed because I’m supposed to hand in a hard copy of an essay for my 5:30 Thursday class. I forgot about the essay and didn’t have a chance to work on it while moving over the weekend. If I’d thought ahead a bit I could have informed the instructor of the scheduling conflict ahead of time, as required in the syllabus, but of course I didn’t do that! I was too stressed out by the move, other school-related stuff, etc.

Now I feel guilty and uncertain: should I show up for class late and empty handed? Is it better not to go at all? When should I email the instructor? Is it fair to ask her to meet me on campus so I can hand in a hard copy as requested? Or to send it electronically when everyone else had to print it out? I don’t mind the penalty to the grade for handing it in late – I’d rather receive a lower grade for a better essay than avoid the penalty by handing in something I’ve rushed and am not proud of. But I don’t want to allow enough time to pass for that penalty to get very high, and I feel guilty anxious about how she might react to my confession / explanation / excuse / request that she still accept the assignment!

And there’s the clock, tick-tocking away, mercilessly adding to the stress every second, every minute, every hour of every day. I just want it to stop! If the clock didn’t exist then the paper would be due “sometime around sunset” and I could probably get it done on time. No one would know precisely which minute I walked in through the door; getting to class “in the evening” would suffice. I could deposit my check “during the day” which is now because the sun hasn’t set yet (yay longer days!). Etc.

I know we need some way to keep track of time and to hold people accountable, both for working the hours they’re being paid to work, and for paying employees for their time! My instructor, classmates, and I might all have different ideas about when “the evening” is, making it nearly impossible for us to meet at the same time. Without some kind of deadline I’d never get anything done. And so on and so on. They’re not perfect, but clocks are a working solution to those problems.

I just hate having my life broken down into increasingly minute portions of time, measured and regulated. I get too stressed as a result. It isn’t how my body seems to function. I wish we had a more flexible means of tracking time, determining when a task needs to be completed, etc.

Trapped

“This cage
is most effective
because of those spikes –

If the ostrich jumps
to try and escape
it will hurt itself
and perceive:

That every spot where it tried to jump
is a predator;
It is safest within its cage.”

The predators close in around the ostrich
Baring their pointy teeth
Their eyes menacing

And the ostrich shrinks back
Against the door to the cage;
At first, it feels
Ashamed

But as the attack continues
it collapses in fear
clutching its head in its wings

Its eyes wide;
Its mouth open
In a Silent Scream

Such a big cage
To run around in
But the ostrich only cowers …
“Why
here?”

“This is where its owner comes
to feed it
Talk to it
and touch it with
Compassion”

if the ostrich were
any other kind of bird
it could simply
fly away

I can relate to this photo/pose so much.

Broken Light: A Photography Collective

Photo taken by contributor Bekr aka Bipolar Girl, a 37-year-old woman who lives in Nevada with her husband and two fur babies. She always knew she was “different.” She was diagnosed with depression as a teenager, then finally diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in her 20′s, along with PTSD, Borderline Personality Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and ADHD. She has also been a self harmer. She is now an advocate for mental illness and is trying to make a difference and help to stop the stigma.

About this photo: “I took this photo last year while in a brief depression, right before a serious identity crisis. When I look at it now, it makes me feel vulnerable. My arms also look very bare because while having this identity crisis I had lots of ink added to my arms. I do not regret them, all of my tattoos have meanings. This photo is me totally…

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