The D word

This is my contribution to Edenland‘s Fresh Horses Brigade. She asks: Are you terrified of death?  What is your funeral song?

I’m learning that the only truth is impermanence. The moment something unfurls, it begins to wither. Death, dying, spirit energy, that gauzy space between life and death, ghosts, haunting — these things fascinate and scare me.

I remember as a very young child going up to a body at a visitation and touching the face. It was as hard as the sidewalk. I remember being scolded right away for doing so. I’ve thought ever since that our culture has it all wrong about death. I like the cultures that throw raucous parties, that allow mourners to wail, that say the word dead instead of all the flowery euphemisms.

During my stint as news reporter, I was the paper’s obituary writer, which put me in constant contact with all the local funeral home workers. I got to know some of the men and women who handled arrangements. This was the perfect opportunity to learn more about the places between death and burial. I asked questions. I wanted to know details. When I felt comfortable, I expressed interest in viewing behind-the-scenes work. One of the guys, let’s call him Brian, was open to the idea and invited me to visit the inner chambers of the funeral home.

Oddly enough, around the time I was to visit,  my father died unexpectedly. When we met again, it was as my father’s casket was going  into the back of the hearse. Turns out we hired Brian’s company to do my dad’s funeral.

Brian leaned into the limousine behind the hearse, put his hand on my shoulder and offered his condolences, said he was sorry things didn’t go as planned.   No, having my father die at 58 was not part of the plan.

Yet, how could the plan be any different? We don’t have access to the mighty blueprint.

It took me a full year to collect the courage to call Brian. He pulled some strings so that I could be part of a tour of the newly renovated county morgue. On the tour, I watched three autopsies in progress and watched a slide show by a forensic pathologist.

That slide show was unlike any other I’ve watched. I cannot tell you of these things here because they are pale, eyeless things curled up in the darkest corners of hell. Horrible things done to babies, young women, street people, drug dealers, mothers, fathers, uncles, grandmothers. These pictures were evidence in criminal trials. You can complain all you want about violent images in movies, but nothing compares to real pictures of death. Nothing.

When my father died, I went into that room at the hospital where he lay prone and I looked death in the face. It changed me. From that day on I began hugging people and telling them I loved them.

After that slide show, I remember going home, calling off the rest of the work day, crawling into bed, pulling the comforter up to my chin, and just staring at the ceiling. I needed time to process.  I needed time to get the smell of meat out of my nostrils.

It’s all a great mystery. We won’t know until we’re there and then who can we tell? Only  those who already know. Do I fear death? Of course I do.  Do I fear old age more or less than I fear death? Do I fear the death of one of my children or my spouse more than my death? Do I fear outliving everyone I’ve ever known or loved? Do I fear dying before I’ve fully lived?

I fear impermanence and I suffer because of it.

So, if I were to die today, I’d ask that “Apparitions” by The Raveonettes be played at my funeral. How appropriately funeralesque is this song? In fact, the album has a mournful beauty to it.

 While searching YouTube for the song, I discovered they covered The Stone Roses’s “I Wanna Be Adored” which was my funeral song of the ’90s.

Somewhere in the program, you’d have to play The White Stripes’ cover of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.” Replace Jolene with “death” and my man with “my life” and the song makes perfect sense. After all, we can beg and we can plead with death, but in the end Jolene, with her flaming locks of auburn hair and eyes of emerald green, will always take your man.

Make today a good one.



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Apple Blossom

It’s an ash-colored morning, typical of  late February in Michigan.  I’m steering my car down the Interstate, dodging potholes and icy patches, heading into downtown Detroit. I’m on my way to a training session to be a literacy tutor. I should feel excited, inspired and enthusiastic. Instead, my soul is as dirt-flecked as the roadside snow.  I need a sea change. I tap the CD player button on my dashboard and release the sweet notes of this ditty:

Hey little apple blossom
what seems to be the problem
all the ones you tell your troubles to
they don’t really care for you

Come and tell me what you’re thinking
cause just when the boat is sinking
a little light is blinking
and I will come and rescue you

Lots of girls walk around in tears
but that’s not for you
you’ve been looking all around for years
for someone to tell your troubles to

Come and sit with me and talk awhile
let me see your pretty little smile
put your troubles in a little pile
and I will sort them out for you
I’ll  fall in love with you
I think I’ll marry you

–The White Stripes, “Apple Blossom,” De Stijl. 2000

This song parts clouds. It turns gray to blue. It radiates sunshine. It coaxes buds into bloom. It’s simple, sweet, perfect.

I twist the volume knob to loud. I hit replay two, three, four times. I belt out the lyrics.

If ever I had the guts to sing karaoke, this would be my song.

If the universe is sending a message, I’m listening.

Because it all comes down to having someone to tell your troubles to, someone to respond when your light is blinking. Even if that someone is yourself.

I want to be honest.

I want to keep it real.

I want balance.

I’ve always needed someone or something to tell my problems to: a diary, an imaginary friend, a best friend, a loving grandmother, a school counselor, a therapist, a lover, a neighbor, my husband, the cat, the Internet.

Creating my own blog was supposed to lift the heavy burden I’d dropped on friends and family and lovers and spouses. I can drop a heavy load. I’ve been told.

Secrets don’t always stay that way. Violators force open my diary’s delicate pages and ravage her secrets. Gossips spit out my stories in venomous bursts.  Lovers bolt, taking their comforting arms and patience with them.  Husbands grow bored with broken records. Loving grandmothers die and their ears go deaf, their mouths mute.  Neighbors move. Therapists increase their rates.  The Internet figures out who you are.

Why the need to spill?

If I knew the answer, you wouldn’t be here reading any of this,  would you?

Thank god for the healing power of music. I leave you with this:

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