Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Day the Music Died

For Don McLean, the music died on a cold February night in 1959 when Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper's tiny chartered plane did a nosedive into a frozen Iowa cornfield (see the story below). The music died for me much later -- though I no longer remember the exact year -- when my maternal grandmother (Floy Danforth Sparling) died of an aneurysm right before my eyes. When she took her last breath, the holiday season (for me) lost a lot of its luster.

I muddled on, though. We still gathered at the lake house in Hot Springs, Arkansas for almost every holiday family get together. Then grandpa (Eugene McKinley Sparling) died. That took even more of the wind out of my sails. The final nail in the coffin, so to speak, came on an August morning in 1992, when my dear mother (Jane Isles Sparling Smith) succumbed to cancer. At that point, the music completely died for me.

As I've related in this space countless times before, one of the hallmarks of Asperger's Syndrome is the craving for patterned routines. We aspies get very set in our ways and, when life interrupts or shreds said routines, many of us have a great deal of trouble establishing new ones. Regarding holiday celebrations, the patterned routine was to celebrate such with and at my grandparent's home on Lake Hamilton.

Of course, since I grew up in Kansas City, Missouri, we couldn't always make it down to Arkansas for every holiday. We celebrated many of them in our home. However, I always knew that the time wouldn't be long until we could celebrate the next one in its rightful place, so this thought held me and allowed me to sort of get into the holiday spirit.

When grandma and grandpa plus my mother died, it meant that the rightful place was gone forever and so, for better or worse, my holiday spirit went with them. Over the years I've tried hard to get it back, but it simply won't budge.

I realized after writing the above post this morning that, while I understand the point I was trying to get across, it may not come across to most people in the way I intended.

Many people may think that the primary reason the holidays have lost their luster for me is due to the loss of important loved ones. While I'm sure that plays a part, albeit a small one, it's more that the deaths of these key people in my life destroyed the framework and the setting -- the pattern.

As I've related to you all before, I don't remember people and faces as much as I remember locations and objects. So, with the deaths of these three loved ones, the lake house and all its trappings went away. As strange as it may sound, that's the part that grieves me the most, not the people.

If back then I had the financial wherewithal to purchase my grandparent's home, all the furnishings and the adjacent property, then only a part of the holiday season would have died in me. I would have grieved for the lost framework -- the people -- but I would have rejoiced at retaining the setting and my guess is that each holiday season would have served as my way of trying to keep the memories alive.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that what really killed my festive holiday spirit was seeing the lake house and its furnishings pass into other hands. That is what drove home the point to me that there is no going back.


  1. As a fellow Aspie, and a Buddhist/Taoist/Atheist (I still don't know!), I can totally relate. I lost my parents in a 3-year span, along with my two favorite uncles, my favorite cousin, and my best friend. And, with that, went the holidays as well. I'm not bah-humbug about the holidays (okay, okay, Black Friday does disgust just a bit, but it's no skin off my nose: I don't celebrate the Winter Commercial Holiday). Anyway, my favorite coffee shop is open 365 days a year, so I just ignore the holidays and enjoy life.

  2. Mark,
    I can certainly understand how that would put a big damper on your holiday spirit. However, as I posted in the addendum to this post, my grief is more for the lost setting, not the people.

  3. i don't tend to place too much importance on holidays. the reason i celebrate at all is because my family places a large importance on them so i celebrate with my family. after my parents die i'll probably have less of a reason to celebrate the holidays too.

    one way to think about it though: nature creates patterns and destroys them for a reason: so that a new pattern can emerge. why not start a new tradition? i suppose that's one downside of not having kids because they kind of force you to move on. :) anyway, even if you don't go all out with your celebration, it might benefit you to start a new tradition, a new "pattern" that you can follow, and that will also be meaningful to you. (such as cooking a favorite dinner, driving around looking at christmas lights, reading a favorite book, etc... it doesn't have to be a huge affair.) after all, when you ended your series on the TTC, you didn't stop blogging! you found a new pattern, a new thing to look forward to. i advise you to do the same in real life. :)

  4. Iktomi,
    As always, such wise words from someone so young!!

    That said, I think the example using the TTC is tenuous. Since the beginning of this blog, my focus has been on a discussion of philosophical Taoism. I may cover different books and issues, but the focus remains the same.

    As to establishing new patterns, it's easier said than done (as I've written mucho times before). :)

    The problem I find for me is that I can begin new patterns, but often my heart simply isn't in it. I don't see the point in going through the motions simply to go through the motions.

  5. then perhaps you just need to find a pattern that is meaningful to you. when i was little i always liked to do our local "angel tree" at christmastime where people drew a child's name from a hat (the child was on a local poverty list) and bought a present for them to put under the tree. when i was older i used to go shopping at toys r us to put in the bin they had for children in need. through 4-H we had similar programs where we would volunteer at some place. perhaps since you already volunteer you could bring christmas cookies to put out? or help them decorate the place seasonally? that would be meaningful, and already part of an established "pattern" for you.

  6. I do relate: the holidays took their first body blow when my parents moved from my childhood home. After that, it was the traditions (patterns), the rôles that the now-missing people played. I do miss them, but that is not why I am indifferent to holidays. When the parts of a thing are gone, it is gone. First the house, then the players. So the holidays don't really exist for me. I don't really feel a loss. I am good to myself year-round :)

  7. Mark,
    You do get it!! And you explained it a lot better than I did. :)

  8. Wow, I thought I was the only one who spelt rôle like that.

  9. But one really key element in Taoist philosophy is the concept of CONSTANT change--everybody dies, the old homestead is sold, nice old folks get washed into the sea and eaten by sharks.

    Balance and equilibrium are not STATIC, they are always becoming. Hanging on to a pattern is as futile as hanging on to your hair that is falling out. It's okay to be sad, to long, to grieve, but...yes, there is no going back. Is is the looking back that is death. As Taoists, we should be able to what!

  10. Baroness,
    I agree with you 100%!! The problem for those of us with Asperger's is that, while we can rationally understand this concept, it seems to make no difference. Something somewhere inside of us simply refuses to let go.

    As I've discussed before, this is one of the most maddening aspects of high-functioning autism. You can see and analyze issues rationally, but it doesn't seem to change the way your brain approaches things.


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