I remember the first time I saw the episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer where Buffy’s mom died. I was sitting on the couch in my friend Lauren’s apartment. Her roommates and boyfriend always teased us for watching Buffy. They couldn’t get past the silly title, and didn’t understand why we’d leave Margarita Tuesdays early to rush home for a new episode. But that week, they trickled in while Lauren and I sat crying on the couch, and instead of going to their rooms they stopped, watched, and cried with us.
It was February of 2001, and it was easily the most carefree time of my life. I was done with college, but still living with all my friends as they finished their final semester. I hadn’t lost anyone close to me, and the horror of 9/11 was still half a year away. Yet, I was still so very affected by the episode. It was so well-written and directed (by Joss Whedon, the creator of the series), that I remember thinking, “I hope this isn’t what it’s like to lose someone.” But I left it at that, because I could. It was a TV show, not real life, and I had, at that point, avoided the horror that Buffy lived that day.
After Madeline passed, my life became a series of odd camera angles, zoomed focus and isolated sounds. People stood in front of me, but I would only see the tops of their heads, or their earlobes. The morning we went to Forest Lawn to finalize funeral arrangements, I threw up all over myself. Instead of cleaning it up, I watched the vomit slowly soak into my clothing. When we picked up Maddie’s urn, I couldn’t hear a word the funeral director spoke over the sounds of the children playing outside.
During one of my many bouts with insomnia I remembered the episode where Buffy’s mom died. I remembered that the entire episode was devoid of music, and the sounds of “normal” life were accentuated. I remembered Buffy throwing up, and the camera lingering on the paper towel soaking up the liquid. I remember the camera angles, which had seemed so jumpy and asymmetrical at the time. I remembered the scene where Buffy had to tell her sister that their mom was gone, and her sister’s screams of disbelief and horror, and I flashed to the sounds Mike and I made when the doctors stopped trying, and the sounds my brother made when he arrived at the hospital after.
I’ve come back to this episode again and again. It obviously affects me in an entirely different way now. I see the interlude where Buffy imagines her mother surviving, and I cry because I have done that a million times. I can see Mike and me chasing Maddie at the park, and we’ll say in passing, “someday when she’s older we’ll tell her about that scare she gave us.” And just like Buffy, I have to pull myself out of that alternate reality into my true reality, just to be shocked and jolted all over again. I see Buffy being polite to the emergency workers, and I remember how I went around the PICU like a robot and thanked every nurse for trying to save my daughter.
The moment in the episode I come back to the most is the scene where Buffy’s friend Anya has a breakdown and cries out:
I don’t understand! I don’t understand how this all happens, how we go through this, I mean I knew her and then she’s, there’s just a body, I don’t understand why she just can’t get back in it and not be dead, it’s stupid, it’s mortal and stupid, Xander’s crying and not talking and I was having fruit punch and I thought that Joyce would never have any more fruit punch and she’d never have eggs, or yawn, or brush her hair, not ever and no one will explain to me why!
And one of their friends says, softly,
We don’t know. How it works. Or why.
And we don’t know with Maddie. We don’t know why just three days before, we were at the park watching ducks, at a birthday party, at a dinner just the three of us, and then just three days later she wasn’t there. I don’t know why she CAN’T just get back in her body and not be dead and it IS stupid and I wish with all my heart I understood how it works and what the point of it all is.
It may seem funny that I am relating my horror to a television show (although if you know me or have read me for a while, not funny at all). But it’s something that has been in my head for quite a while, and it’s time to let it out so maybe I can stop thinking about it. I write to work things out and let things go. But if someone who has seen this episode reads my post and says, “OH. I get it,” that’s OK, too. Because it’s the closest thing I’ve seen on TV to capturing what it’s like to lose someone.