For some time, I have been putting off ordering a death certificate – putting it off for at least a year. My procrastination was never intentional; sometimes I would randomly think about needing it and mentally put it onto a to-do list, an item that went unchecked and forgotten. Finally, though, I had to order my birth certificate, and doing so had a time frame in which it absolutely had to be done, so I took the opportunity to order the death certificate. This sheet of paper formalized Kristi Degner’s death for the Oklahoma Department of Health.
Kristi is my biological mother, and she died when I was three years, four months, and 28 days old. Her death gave me a life that has so far turned out pretty fantastically in the scheme of things, but it has left a hole in me that grew deeper and darker as I grew older. When I was a teenager, maybe actually a bit younger than my teens, I began thinking about Kristi and wondering what she was like, what she would think of me, whether she would have been able to protect me from the things that most caused me pain.
I had one memory of Kristi: she chased me around a coffee table, one that my memory visualized as a big slab of polished tree still in its natural form. I was giggling as she chased me, and I have always cherished that memory even though I realize that perhaps it isn’t even accurate. I now have quite a few more incomplete but no less cherished memories of Kristi.
On May 31, 2013 – 245 days into sobriety – I sat in St. Ann’s Church in Brooklyn Heights to see Phillip play in the Brooklyn Symphony’s performance of Missa Solemnis. I was in a foul mood. I had begun practicing meditation at Mirmont Treatment Center, and I was getting pretty good at it. What began as assigning positive energy the color blue and negative energy the color red was now a process through which I could monitor my emotional state of being.
My spirituality is based upon the notion of positive and negative energy swirling around feverishly in the makeup of our world – a bit of spirituality based upon simple science, and I use my visualizations to consider how much positive or negative energy I feel surrounds me and flows within me. Gradually my visualizations grew from a fairly constant dark purple to a frequent pale blue, but on this day I felt consumed by the red – fury flowed through me.
As I sat on a pew in St. Ann’s, I closed my eyes and tried to summon positive thoughts and banish the negativity that was clouding my mind. Then the program began. I tried to clear my mind of all but the music but the difficulty was pretty great; however, an 80ish-person choir accompanied the symphony for this performance, and when they came in I felt a shift in not my mood but in my very existence. Something odd was happening – I don’t know that I would describe it as good or as bad…maybe as disconcerting but in a good way.
I opened my eyes, which had been closed since I began attempting to meditate my negativity away, and before me I was struck by the massiveness of the blue stained-glass window behind the symphony and choir. I did not actually “see,” as in have a psychotic visualization, but I did “see” a flowing, cloud-like white horse rushing at me and into me, and with that several memories of Kristi rushed through my mind. This is when I met my horses, upon which I not infrequently depend.
Today I opened the envelope containing my birth certificate and Kristi’s death certificate, and I read my birth certificate, curious about the time of my birth (1:27am), then I scanned this death certificate I’ve never before seen…this piece of paper that proves without doubt, in clumsily typed letters, that Kristi is dead. Kristi died 30 days after her 20th birthday, and when I read that I sobbed. I haven’t cried like that in a very long time – I haven’t felt pain like that sort of pain in a very long time. As I cried tonight, I called upon the horses to which I am so very grateful for allowing me to remember a little more about the woman who brought me into this world but was unable to be a part of helping me move through it.