Grief is a world created by death and fueled by memories. Grief world does not have to be painful and stagnant it can be easy and dynamic. In a way my grief world mimics the worlds Sims players create and thrive in. We can thrive in our Sims like world of grief and memories.
Gimlet Media's Reply All Podcast is a special and smart podcast series that covers technology and cool fun stuff. A recent Podcast, #129 Autumn, was more than technology. The episode was about The SIMS online game, a world you can create and control. A "13-year-old girl builds a tiny world that she has complete, perfect control over. And then one day, that world forces her to make an impossible decision." You can listen and read the transcript here.
The story of Autumn who is 27 lives in L.A. She is a special education aid who works with fourth and fifth graders. At age 8 Autumn is taken by her mom to a baby shower where the girl living there introduces her to The Sims.
The Sims is a life simulation game whose players make virtual people and manage those virtual peoples lives. In fact you can micromanage every single aspect of these people and the world. You can make a home, a yard, a world, change facial features, eye color, height, clothes, and on and on. I learned you can even wash and dress your characters. It is a very real virtual world/community. In fact the characters you create can die from causes both natural and unnatural. Here is a Wiki page on The Sims.
Autumn's mom is a single mom who is a teacher. Home life for Autumn was not as fun as it could be or supportive as she hoped for. Autumn's grandma who lived near her school became the central parental figure in her life. I'd say listen to the podcast or read the transcript to get the full picture of her grandma and their life.
All during this time Autumn built a Sims world with white picket fences, grass, fridge of food, and more. When she was 15 her grandma was diagnosed with lung cancer, eventually she went into hospice. Autumn visited her one day and two days before Autumn could go back her grandma died. Autumn was told of the death by her mom in a casual way.
With her world turned upside down (we who know grief can relate to that when death of loved one happens) Autumn dumps her current Sims world and creates one of her family and her grandma. So she began to create her grandma to bring her back. Yet in Sims at the time the people were white or the styles were. Autumn discovers The Black Simmer is a website where black people playing The Sims can modify the game to match their black real world experiences. Everything from churches, to Country Crock Butter, leftovers, skin tone, earrings, hair, etc.
I won't go further into the episode to avoid spoilers because I think after my comments and thoughts you may want to jump in.
I listened to this Reply All Podcast just because it was there. I did not expect to see beyond the obvious a black girl playing The Sims and adapting it to her world. What struck me so strongly was the sense that in Donna's death, my grief, and loss that I created a Sims of Donna, our home, and life. Is that what we do when we grieve enter a world where we control everything? ‘
There are differences between The Sims and my/your grief world. In The Sims you make the world you want as you see it or remember it. In my world it is as it was when Donna died, frozen in amber. Though I am doing some adding, subtracting, and remodeling of the physical world I reside in. I assure you I try to make sure it fits with the collective design and style gestalt that Donna built.
In Autumn's Sims world (all Sims for that matter) she can randomly walk around and run into her grandma. She can even have conversations with her. The language in The Sims is gibberish. Still it was something. I don’t walk around and bump into Donna though I will see places we visited or ate and memories flood back but not conversations. It is just random dialogues in my head of what she may have said. It is never how was your day or what's for dinner. Though I would like to have a chance to be more dotting and engaged as a husband. (That will be another post all together.)
One of the controls you have in The Sims is the ability to have your characters age or be fixed in time at a specific age. Donna died at 59 she will not age. I look at pictures of her as a child, as a new bride, before we married, as my wife. I can access those photos of her and I go back. I go to places well before I knew her and the life she never spoke of. In a way be with Donna along this continuum of time in photos.
When a loved one dies and we are pitched into the escape room of grief. We can stubble around to try and find a way out before time expires. Or we can sit to carefully examine all the items in the room, the hints, the situation, and find a way out without loosing what we’ve learned. Discovery and experience is knowledge. In fact we do not escape from grief but embrace it, live with it, and within it. We can do that in the light of day not locked in a room.
That is my take away from my this podcast and Autumn’s Sims. Sims parallels my grief world. I can build my grief world like Autumn built Sims for her grandma. I can spend my time creating a world for Donna where it is a place for me to learn, grow, and ultimately find comfort. I do that daily without logging in and simply engaging with my grief and memories.
When we become active participants in our grief world, as players do in The Sims, there is a richness that emanates from our grief and of course sadness. Grief world is not a perfect pollyanna place of long walks on the beach and warm puppy noses. It is our world it is where we explore and discover who we are, who our loved one was and is, and most important we find comfort in learning. I see now I build my grief world (Sims) and engage with it for benefit.