Friday, April 30, 2010

Death - Take a Holiday!

Every evening I call my mother, and as much as we try to keep the conversation jolly and light, lately the news she imparts has to do with death. My mom will be 87 in May. She has outlived many of her friends, but the older she gets, the more frequent death visits those she loves (all of whom have been dear friends of our whole family). The other day, after our usual greeting, she told me, "We have another one down." It was, I believe, the third one in three weeks.

You have to understand that death is not something my mom likes to talk about. She has great faith, and is not afraid of death, but she gets very nervous talking about something that has always made her awkward and uncomfortable. After her terrible car accident a couple of years ago (has it been that long?), Rachel and I flew down to be by her side in the ICU, joining my sister who had been there from the first moment, and instead of feeling comforted, Mom started crying. When we asked her why, she said, "I think y'all are all here because you think I'm not going to make it." I was shocked she even mentioned it. We tried to reassure her. Occasionally after that, she would say things like "I wish the wreck had just taken me," but on the whole, Mom has always preferred to talk about other things - anything - rather than death.

Of course, death is something that, on the contrary, fascinates me (maybe it's partly the medical aspect that it is interesting). Even in my twenties, I remember buying a book about the history of body-snatching (grave-robbing). Later I read an expose of funeral industry and another book on the physical aspects of death - in what order the cells and organs die one by one. This week I'm reading a book called Stiff, detailing how cadavers have helped science research and therefore humanity as a whole (its very gory details don't even bother me when I read it during lunch). I have already written my obituary; after all, I'm the only one who knows what I want included in it.

What about death is not intriguing? I can't find anything. The whole process of one minute a body has a soul inside and then next minute the soul has moved out is fascinating to me. One minute you're a living, breathing, feeling being, then you die and your empty shell can be a research instrument to help scientists learn how to build safer cars - or your organs, all of a sudden useless to you, can be used to donate to living humans who need them to survive or thrive. Of course, I can be intrigued by death and not like it at the same time. I have lived through the normal number of deaths in my circle for one my age, I suppose - grandparents, an elderly aunt, etc. My dad died at a younger age than expected (64) when I was only 26, so that was difficult. My close friend Bernie died of hepatitis before she turned 50, and my first cousin Mike died unexpectedly in his 40s also. I have had several friends and acquaintances from high school who are gone.

But then, I'm only 55. Mom is 87, and she has had visits by death to loved ones many, many times over. I remember when a gifted organist (and close family friend) in Memphis died years ago, Mom bemoaned the fact that her funeral was not well attended only because "so many people who knew her and appreciated her had already gone before." You don't live to be 87 years old and not think of death, whether someone else's or your own, on a frequent basis. It's coming to all of us at one time or another. I am entirely comfortable - even eager - to discuss it. It's one thing we all have in common, and it's the great Unknown.

But after hearing of these three friends of Mom's (and mine) who died this month, and after seeing prominent local folks in the obits column, I am a little weary of death right now. Like the wonderful old movie "Death Takes a Holiday," I yearn for a little break. I'm tired of thinking about losing people I love. I'm empty from missing "those who have gone before," who have left a big hole in my heart. Oh, I certainly believe the soul lives on, and Ed reminds me that my dad, for instance, is now with me in a way he could never be physically on earth, but it doesn't make me stop aching for one more time to give him a big hug and kiss.

Death fascinates me, intrigues me, transfixes me. It is reality for us physical beings. But that doesn't mean I have to like it. Sometimes I just think it should just give us a break.


Cuidado said...

I've read those books too and have some others. Death fascinates me too. What is hard though is the pain it can cause when someone close dies. I've lost many friends and relatives but still feel extreme pain over the death of my mother who died 12 years ago. She died much too young at 60 of early onset Alzheimer's which began at 52. I'm not sure if I'll ever get over it even though I lost a brother and got over that with much less time.

Monica said...

You are such a deep thinking person, Carol...

Cardmaking is great therapy for me, be it getting over the hurt from a friend's unkind words or something more serious like my Dad's death last month on April
8th. We lost him to Cancer...

Be cheerful, spoil yourself.



Carol Tiffin James said...

Thank you both. It's something we all have to deal with every so often and we're blessed if we have successful ways of surviving loss.

Monica, I too make my own cards, but on the computer, each one made specifically for individuals with special meaning for them. I admire cards made by hand. I'll bet you're a very talented artist!