Follow by Email

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Reflections on Mourning: Coping with the Ultimate "Event Horizon."

On April 7, 2007, my son Michael Arthur Klotz, age 34, died in Milwaukee after a long, courageous battle with kidney disease. On Tuesday, October 23rd, he would have been 35. The process of mourning the death of a loved one involves reflection. These are my reflections on my mourning and I share them with you for what they are worth.


In a televised interview with Mike Wallace, nearly 50 years ago, Tennessee Williams said that the most important moments of life are those when we break out of our own selfish shell and really sense the presence of another person.

I believed then and, in the years that have passed since, continue to believe, that Williams had touched a profound truth. He had defined, as well as anyone can, the process we call love: moving from a sense of self (self love) to a sense of others (“neighborly love”). I also have reached a conclusion that the process of love affects the psyche of both the lover and loved so that in some corner of their own individual psyche, resides a joint part of their psyche that is a doorway to different dimension of existence beyond space and time.

I use the word Greek word psyche as a shorthand for personhood: the “me” that “is.” It encompasses the conscious, the subconscious and the X element or elements, that through the millennia philosophers and now science have added to the mix to define the personality apart from an individual’s mere physical presence. It is, or would include, what the religious would call the soul. To those who give credence to concepts such as the noosphere or the ”collective conscious” it would include those elements of the human personality that somehow connect, or interact, with those hypothetical constructions.

In physics, an “event horizon” is a barrier that prevents observation of the object it cloaks. Most easily understood is the phenomenon of the “black hole” ‑ a super dense collapsed star of such overwhelming gravity that even light can not escape its grasp. Objects that come within its influence are sucked into the hole and at a point disappear from view as their light yields to the inexorable force the black hole’s gravity. The point at which observation of the object ends, is called the “event horizon.”

Death is the ultimate “event horizon,” a point beyond (or within) which, we may not observe. It does not mean that there is nothing there; it means, that we can not observe what is there, if anything. While Mike has moved through his event horizon, the love he shared with so many has not been erased by his death. He, and his love, remain in our psyche.

As a child, Mike reveled in role playing games in which characters are created by the players who develop the characters’ personalities and thought processes. The winner is most often the one who best simulates the artificial reality of the character the player created. As a student and then as an adult, Mike was current on the numerous examinations of the impact of the computer on human development. One of his interests was “virtual reality” where the enormous power of the computer is used to create simulations of reality including individuals and complex social organizations. It is in one sense, grown-up role-playing games. He argued that the prevalence of role playing games in the United States gave us a leg-up in our competition with the outside world. Role-playing skills - a form of virtual reality - lay at the heart of modern science and commerce.

In 2006, Mike received a joint Master of Science Degree in Bioinformatics from the Wisconsin Medical College and Marquette University. His goal was to create computer simulations of biological processes and structures of the body which could, among other things, simulate the progress of disease and treatments in the body and/or be used as the first step in drug testing.

Is not the residuum of Mike’s love, which resides in psyche of those who shared love with him, a simulation of Mike himself, a “virtual reality” Mike? To the extent we have exchanged love with Mike, he resides within us as a virtual reality. That reality is as complex and detailed as the love we shared with him. The deeper the love, the more complex our simulation.

We all are familiar with the cliché of funerals and memorials: “He would have liked it that way.” (Or even the religious inquiry: “What would Jesus do?”) That is an attempt to emulate the conduct or ideas of a departed by searching our psyche to simulate the departed’s choice of action as if he were still alive.

Shortly before Mike’s final collapse, I talked with Mike on the telephone. He said to me: “You have to start a blog. You have said to me things, I have never heard or seen anywhere else.” It was the last conversation of any length that we had, for what followed in the next few weeks were a series of abbreviated ones. He was in continuous pain, and increasing sedation with the final onslaught of his disease. The family traveled to Milwaukee twice. The first time, he seemed to rally. We left, but returned the next week, after he relapsed. With him on the night he passed, were his wife Sara, his mother Rene and myself, his brother Dan and his wife Meg and their daughter C.J., his sister Lisa, a favorite aunt and uncle (Rene’s brother Ken and his wife Kay), his cousins Keri, Kathy & Kirby and his best friend Noah Ravitz, who had also flown in from New York.

I no longer talk to myself, but to the Mike that lies within. I can seek that Mike’s advice. The validity of that consultation is related directly to the detail and complexity of my relationship with Mike himself. As much as I long for the his physical presence, I do not feel abandoned. I can consult with the virtual Mike of my psyche and even draw him near. In “Play It Again Sam,” Woody Allen consulted with the ghost of Humphrey Bogart – sometimes accepting, other times rejecting, the advice he received. Mike understood that. He is no ghost, but he was a Casablanca fan.

But what of our mutual love that resided in Mike’s psyche as he crossed his event horizon? What lies beyond that horizon has challenged and puzzled humanity from the dawn of its reflective powers. That ability to reflect on, and challenge, that horizon, is among those things that marks the human psyche as exceptional. Is my virtual reality Mike merely a reflection of my thought processes? Is it simply an echo of the past? Or, is there something more?

Mike’s passing was not my first experience with mourning. I have lost three older brothers to cancer, and, in the natural course of things, both my parents and my wife Rene’s parents. My mother died in 1980 at age 80. The last forty years of her life had been filled with pain. She was overweight and suffered from arthritis, particularly in her back. Nonetheless, she had been an active member of the community, a fixture in local Onondaga County (Syracuse) Democratic Women’s Club and a Vice-Chair of the N.Y. State March of Dimes.

Standing by her casket at her wake, I was startled, not by grief, but by an overwhelming sense of transcendent peace and serenity. I had an impulse of guilt. How could I feel this way at my mother’s wake?

At the time, I had a client in Manhattan named Marilyn. Marilyn believed herself a psychic and was a professional astrologer. I had helped save her apartment after her husband's death. I shared with Marilyn my confusion about my feelings at my mother’s wake. She noted that I had been close to my mother and perhaps I was feeling what she was feeling.

In Mike’s journey to his event horizon, Mike was surrounded by, and immersed in, love. He, and the love that resided in him, are, for now, beyond our gaze. My solace is from the words of Paul to the Corinthians:

“Love never fails. …For now we see in a mirror, darkly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”


The serenity returns.


Copyright 2007, John C. Klotz, New York, New York