Doctors never have anything positive to tell you in private rooms.
I asked him if I could be left alone for a while after he was done speaking. It all caught up with me the moment he stepped out of the room.
In so many words, my mother would never wake back up.
The last time I spoke to my mother, I told her the ambulance was on the way while I held her hand. That was the last time I spoke to her and knew she could hear me. Then I was in the hospital hearing the hardest news I’ve ever heard in my life.
I was a mess by the time I was home. I needed to talk to someone. No one outside the family knew what had happened.
I called my fireteam.
Death is trivial in the Destiny franchise. Your characters are technically zombie soldiers who can only be revived by your fireteam in the game’s hardest moments. That squad of companions is your lifeline.
Leaving someone behind can mean the entire mission may have to be scrapped. Everyone is responsible for everyone else. That connection in the game can extend to the real world, especially when your fireteam is made up of friends you know in real life.
This isn't the first time I’ve talked about processing grief with media on Polygon. I’ve learned that a lot can be managed alone, with the right kind of practice and entertainment. But dealing with the most difficult moments requires being close to others.
No one is closer to me than my original Destiny fireteam.
How this happened
My mother got sick in 2014. I kept an eye on her while I spent that year freelancing. By the time it was 2015, my lease was about to expire and I decided to spend some time caring for my mother.
It’s difficult to move back in with your parents, especially when it’s due to their need for you, and not the other way around. The reversal of those roles was jarring, but it’s not rare as our parents get older. I had just expected it to come later in my life, when I was ready — not this soon.
Every day was difficult. My mother relied on herself above all others, and would never grow tired of doing what needed to be done. She was now in a situation where she could barely walk across the room without my physical support and breathing equipment.
I had just started playing the original Destiny for Polygon’s 2015 game of the year considerations. I would log on every night and tear through the game with a group of close friends from back home.
I’m like my mother: I don’t like asking for help. I don’t reach out to people when I want support, or even when I need it. But I had to put my feelings somewhere. The game was a good place for them, and talking there felt safe. It was a warm blanket that happened to include laser rifles.
My friends and I fell in love with Destiny. We tore through campaigns and raids and devoured the Crucible. We also, at some point, and god help us, discovered the peanut butter baby.
You’ve likely seen this video in its heyday of 2015-2016. In the clip, a mother enters a kitchen only to find that her daughter has slathered her younger infant sibling in peanut butter for no apparent reason. She finds it humorous. It’s so charming and innocent. Eventually, the mother asks the infant a question that, at least for us, has become legendary: “Does it feel good?” To which the baby succinctly and enthusiastically replies, “Ah.”
You know the clip, and for us the climax happened at the 32-second mark. That enthusiastic “Ah” sound. We couldn’t get enough.
You probably don’t think this is funny. You’re also probably right. But we loved it, and we ran it into the ground. It never got old.
Then I found this clip:
Soon we each had the video queued up on our phones. Did you die in a Crucible match and were waiting to respawn? Hit that clip. Waiting for the next planet to load? Hit that clip. Need to announce when you’re back from a bathroom break? You know what to do.
Peanut Butter Baby became our clan name in Destiny; the sound of that baby’s “ah” become our rallying cry. It was a silly thing to cause this much unity, but life is hard and short. You take the joy wherever you find it.
I heard my fireteam’s voice every night, along with that baby. They would check in with me between missions. They knew my mother, and cared about how she was doing. This support became a part of the experience of Destiny to me as much as shooting aliens.
The good times happened when there was little to report. A rhythm became apparent. I could deal with this. This was safe.
Life doesn’t warn you before it tears everything down.
The first time I ever dialed 911 took place when my mother had a heart attack in the middle of the night. The rest happened quickly.
I can’t recall how much time passed in the hospital before I saw her again. I saw the sun rise. When I was finally able to see her, I was struck by the disconnect between the large, private room and the person laying there who was attached to more machines than I could imagine.
She wasn’t responsive. She was stable. Days passed. Then, suddenly, the doctor asked to speak to me in that private room. You know what comes next.
Your world comes apart. Your entire reality shifts. And then you look out the window and see the people driving to work as if everything was OK.
It was the first time in my life where I had no idea what to do.
I needed support. I needed to hear friendly voices. I needed to be surrounded by people I trust. That was my fireteam. They had been with me for the whole experience, talking to me every night. I needed them.
It’s important to understand the value of the people in the games you love. Games can be a hobby, sure, but they’re also a place for us to gather and share ourselves. Bonds form, and they strengthen with time. Don’t let anyone tell you they aren’t real just because they were forged across a game. Accept your love when you can find it, and send it using the means you feel most comfortable. And games are wonderful for that.
There is another person on the other end of every online game you play. They have emotions, personal challenges and their own set of life experiences outside the game. It’s easy to forget that in a world of avatars and virtual identities.
But every game online is being played by a living, breathing person. So please treat that responsibility with respect in every game. This isn’t virtual; this is real life. I know that for a fact, because it saved mine.