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Grandma H and I always have the weirdest conversations. Case in point, I get in her car and mention, “This seat is all screwed up.”
She says, “You know why? We had to put Russ’s wheelchair in the backseat.”
“Because he’s dead.”
I’m confused why does his dying require her to put the wheelchair in her car? I must have missed something. “But why did you get his wheelchair?”
“Because he’s dead.”
“His wife gave it to me at the hairdressers since she had it in her car.”
“BECAUSE HE’S DEAD.”
“Do you get all dead people’s wheelchairs?”
She sighs. “No it was ours and we loaned it to him.”
“You kinda left that part out of the story.”
“Oh, well that’s why.”
“So, to clarify, you don’t collect dead people’s wheelchairs?”
She laughs. “No.”
Grandma H announces on the way to IHOP, “I’m not really hungry. I ate some chicken.”
“But you knew we were going to breakfast,” I whine.
“I got up early. I was hungry.”
“You remember those three pancakes I got last time?”
“Yup.” Where is she going with this?
“I want one pancake. That’s it. You tell the waitress.”
“I’ll do my best.”
Luckily, when we get there, I find the Rooty Senior which is one pancake, one egg, one bacon and one sausage. She’s thrilled.
Grandma H and I finish lunch at IHOP and she announces, “I want to go to the cemetery to see my mom and sisters.”
I agree. Partly cause I don’t want her going alone and partly cause I like cemeteries.
We turn off the main road and inch down the gravel driveway. Trees loom around us.
Suddenly, Grandma says, “If someone come out of the woods, I want you to run to the car and lock yourself in.”
My jaw drops.
She continues, “Don’t worry about me. I’ve lived a long life. You have to save yourself.”
My heart thrums in my ears. “Uh, I thought we were going to the cemetery to visit loved ones. Why are you casting me in a Lifetime movie?”
Then when we park, I say, “Let’s lock the car.”
She agrees and puts her keys around her neck.
I shake my head. “Great. Now I have to save you since you’ve got the keys.”
We walk to the gravestones and talk to her sisters a bit. She tells them how she misses them.
My favorite moment is when we turn to her parents grave and she exclaims, “She was the best mother in the world.” She says this with absolute conviction three times.
I ask, “What about your dad?”
“He was okay.”
We end with a macabre discussion of how she wants to be cremated and slip away. No wake. No funeral. No gawkers. Then she explains how she wants the family to gather together to drink a glass of wine and say something nice about her. Her wish is to have her ashes spread in the ocean, but she said the kids can hang onto them for a while if they want.
This brings me to the brink of tears.
I know everyone has to die. But it’s sad to contemplate the death of someone sitting right next to you.
I suggested dividing up the ashes so all the kids get a piece of her. She doesn’t think they want that. Some people have no clue how much they are treasured.
Lately I’ve been thinking about a close friend who left my life way too early. There was so much he planned to do in life. And he never got to finish college.
Maybe it’s because he died young that his words carry so much importance. Maybe he was just a Buddhist sage in a 20-year-old’s body.
But one piece of advice stayed with me all these years.
“You have the right to ask for anything you want or need from someone. But you must be prepared for their response because they may not give it to you.”
At the time he imparted that gem, I nodded my head. But it took some time to really sink in. How important and useful the advice was.
His words have replayed through my head for over a decade. I think the hardest part is preparing for the person’s response. And dealing with it.
Your friends must have said something especially wise that stuck in your brain too. If you’d like to share in the comments, I’d love to hear their emeralds of wisdom.
I’ve always been drawn to cemeteries. Fascinated by the quiet. Curious about how the dead are remembered. Or forgotten.
On Thursday, Lindsay and I ended up walking through one. It was a lovely spring day. Perfect for a reflective walk.
My suggestion? A cemetery. She picked the one her grandfather was buried in.
The view from the top was rather stunning. There’s a mausoleum there overlooking the entire cemetery.
Most of the best spots were taken but smaller spaces, perfect for cremated remains were still available. It was a super peaceful place to be laid to rest.
I wonder if anyone visits this grave. Or thinks of this man. He died young.
To me that is always a tragedy. To not be given the chance to live.
I’ve always felt dying at any age over 50 is almost fair. You had a chance. Opportunities. You lived more than half a lifetime.
Sure you still might have things to do and lots of life left in you, but you got the major experience of life–College, relationships, children, working, traveling.
But someone who dies before 30 didn’t get a third of a life. And the younger the death the more repugnant it feels to me.
I guess I go to cemeteries to affirm that I am alive. To remember it is a temporary condition. One I should make the most of every second that I am given.
Last night I braved the wet, cold diagonal rain to venture to the Mid-Manhattan Library for the MWA NY Chapter’s Library Outreach Series. The topic was: FORENSICS AND THE MYSTERY WRITER: IS IT SCIENCE OR FICTION?
The panel featured three writers (Lindsay Faye, Stefanie Pintoff, and E.J. Wagner) and a moderator (E.W. Count), who read excerpts from their books, answered questions on forensics role in mystery writing, and gave a glimpse into their writing process. All three moderators agreed that forensics was a must have in their mystery novels.
E.J. Wagner gave historical background on the field of forensics, including how at one point in history the belief that the body had to be intact to reunite with the soul in heaven made it impossible for anyone to openly share knowledge about dissecting human bodies. Lindsay Faye pointed out how the “how” and “why” a character solves a crime is in and of itself very character revealing.
The authors discussed the importance of scientific and historic accuracy even in fiction. Ms. Faye pointed to the recent Sherlock Holmes movie as an example of how the idiomatic use of language didn’t fit the period. She talked about how there was no term for a sociopath at the time of Jack the Ripper and that using Freudian terms before the birth of Freud doesn’t make sense.
The topic of what qualifies as death was also discussed. It is interesting to note that a hundred years ago it was a heart stopping and now (in the U.S.) is when brain activity stops. E.J. Wagner made reference to death being a continuum, which I found intriguing.
All in all a great event by MWA-NY chapter. Many thanks to E.W. Count for a great job moderating and participating in the discussion and to the panel for sharing their experiences and insight.
If you’d like to hear the discussion, it was taped and is available on the WNYC website.
I was talking to my parents about my hobbies, my interests and all the things that fill up my day, when I realized in a way all of my life is about finding distractions from the inevitability of death.
We do our best to make our lives count, to matter at least to ourselves. But in the end, what do we have? Money, family, friends–none can be carried forward. We really only have one life. One chance to make it worth it.
So I spend time with the people I love. I make time to see my friends. I play with my dog. I visit my family. But the one thing that gives my life purpose is my writing. Without it, there is no point to getting up in the morning, fighting rush hour or working long hours.
For those few hours I get to write and be with my characters, I would sacrifice just about anything. Because when I die, my writing will live on. My characters and my story will exist long after me.
What distraction gives your life purpose? Or is it a series of little ones that makes each day worth living?