This is the third installment of what I hope will be the end of an exploration on the act of mourning in LARP. The first installment focuses on the loss of a character, the second on the loss of a player. You can read them by following the links.
I started LARPing when I was sixteen. I've touched on this numerous times, both in my private and professional lives, but it's still a particularly relevant and poignant turning point in my life. I was dating a guy who LARPed, and had been LARPing for years, and he thought it was up my alley. He wasn't wrong. As you might expect from a sixteen year-old growing up in vaguely conservative New England, I approached my mother with the idea of a weekend away with strangers and expected to get turned down. To my surprise, her eyes lit up.
"Only if you tell me how much fun it is - I want to try it."
The rest of my future began to churn into motion from this point.
I feel it's important to take a moment and talk about my mother. She came from a family that is lightly on the Roman side of Roman Catholic with strong foundations in religious morality. She had one older brother who went to college and never had children; I think she wanted to go to college, but in that period and upbringing, it likely made more sense to send her brother to college instead of her. She never graduated college, but she made several attempts as a single mother. I can remember many countless nights where she was studying chemistry in her bedroom while my brother and I hid away in our rooms in our small apartment we shared with two rabbits, two cats, and an evil cockatiel. I suspect that had she been given an opportunity to really pursue her academic dreams, she would have been frightfully good at it. She was incredibly intelligent, adept, and clever without it.
I also suspect that had she been given the opportunity to embrace it at a younger age, she would have been a lifelong roleplay nerd.
She was a brilliant writer and her creativity in story likely exceeded my own, but I don't think she ever felt she had the hobby avenues to follow it and I don't think many adults in her life encouraged her to chase that passion. Despite that, I can remember long car rides home from LARP events where she and I would discuss plot points and a young, seventeen and eighteen year-old Kelsey would use it as an inspiration to write LARP events for people twice her age.
I hope, and still hope, that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
My mother tried her first LARP shortly after I started playing. I was seventeen or eighteen and since I couldn't drive, it made sense for her to come and play the game at the same time I did. She had just remarried, had a solid job with Brown University (ironically, in the Chemistry department), and my brother was living in New York City. I was her only responsibility.
She played a lesbian dwarf that hit on one of our PCs. She played a celestial abomination that was corrupted from the shifting of the moon on the primal planes. She played a townsperson just trying to get by in a world of magic and fright.
She was hooked.
I suspect it was better than she and I played other LARPs when I was at that age. There were parts of myself that I was tapping into and coming to terms with that I'm not certain I could have expressed if she was around. The guy I was dating when I discovered LARPing I had since broken up with, but my mother considered him a second son (I'll get to that in a moment) and he was part of a brand new LARP that she found less intimidating to play since everyone was starting from scratch.
Although I didn't play it, I was unsurprised my mother was playing one of the few lawful good characters at that game. I was told with chagrin about events in which she wasn't able to participate often ended in the town going rampant and making terrible, terrible choices. My mother was an incredible kind soul, and it didn't surprise me that her character followed suit.
Eventually, she played less and less. I've always wondered what happened to that town full of characters and the choices they made, but I never asked.
My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer for the first time in 2005. I was a junior in High School and she told me while I was in the car; I had my first panic attack. Everything developed pretty quickly from there. We were housesitting for family friends for a month, but the surgery happened during it: a double mastectomy and aggressive chemo. She could have opted for less, but she wanted to be done with cancer forever and she didn't care about losing her breasts.
I obsessively took up baking. My step-father and I became briefly, and quickly, very close. She couldn't sleep through the pain and she would pace through our tiny trailer home at all hours, the house so small that I was unable to avoid watching it.
She LARPed less, physically unable to. I LARPed more.
I played my first Dystopia Rising game in 2013 and my mother came with me along with my best friend, his girlfriend, and the boyfriend who would later become my lifelong partner. She had been in remission for over a year, off of chemo and doing stunningly well. None of us has ever played a game like DR before and she wanted to try playing again so we all went together. Despite her being terrified of zombies, she was chatting about that event and her character for months.
The people I went with drifted in and out of DR, but I stuck with it. I talked to her about it on a fairly regular basis, especially after I quit my existing staff position at a fantasy LARP game in Connecticut. I told her I was interesting in sticking with this game long term.
Six months later, her cancer reappeared - this time it was in her bones. No matter what any doctor says, everything after that was just a matter of time. I didn't let myself think about it.
My mother was an exceedingly kind person. A lot of people say this about their loved ones, but she had a soft spot in her heart for every nerd she ever met at a LARP. I was one of the lucky ones: my parents loved me, and while we were poor, we were never truly in need. She used to drive me to game and after I introduced her to people she would quietly lean toward me and ask "do they need a mom?"
She had many adopted children by the end. People who she thought of ceaselessly, who she would ask me about even if I hadn't seen them in months, who she would contact at the drop of a hat if they seemed like they needed help. I had friends who had her listed as "mom" in their phones and as their emergency contacts. When she wasn't able to attend events any more, she would come and bring us all food and things to drink because she knew we never had the money half the time.
We didn't have a funeral. We held a wake in the fall. The entire facility filled, through all the rooms and into the hallways. Co-workers, family, friends, and her many, many children. Standing in line to greet mourners I met more LARPers than I realized she knew and the sense of loss was resounding. They should have been standing beside me in that line.
"Why don't you start your own LARP?"
She had just picked me up from college for the summer and we were on our way back to Providence. I had an event the following week and the question made me frown.
"Starting a LARP costs money I don't have," I told her. "Maybe someday."
"But what if you did have the money," she insisted. "Would you?"
Seed & Sword started as a lark. I loved LARPing and I was playing through 35+ events each year and several different games and I noticed that it was hard to figure out what a game would be like before you arrived, so I started reviewing them. Reviewing eventually turned into an exploration of LARP culture and theory as I gained my own opinions and experiences.
Five years later, Seed &Sword is now a fully developed LLC producing two different LARPs with a third slated in the fall. We have plans set in motion to represent freelance game designers, live event coordinators, writers, and editors with an eye toward live-action. This is largely in part to the funds that my mother left in my name when she passed.
Sunday was Mother's Day. I was at a LARP, but I received several notification on finalizing contracts and LLC paperwork going through. It seemed fitting. This morning I started to watch my finances shift and adjust as I move into a different stage of my life, one which my mother predicted I would be doing ten years ago. 2015 ended and began with mourning Now when I attend a LARP event S&S has presented, there is now something more.
Every time I see joy at a game I have helped produce, I will know it's because of her.