Category Archives: Death & dying

Book Tour: Water for Elephants

I actually thought Lemonade for the Elephant would be a better title, but maybe that’s why Sara Gruen is a bestselling novelist and I am one of her readers.

This is my 7th book tour with the Barren Bi+ches, but my 1st for a non-IF-related book. I found it much harder to find a focus and more difficult to develop questions. With the other books, I had a sense for what my fellow readers would think in certain situations. But with Water for Elephants, there was no known common ground. No shared focal point. I felt like a chicken let out of the coop onto the big open range.

Or maybe like a camel let out of a train car after a long Joliet-to-Providence run.

What is your favorite circus related memory?
I have only one circus-related memory and it’s not a good one. My parents had taken us to the Greeley Stampede (cross between a circus and a carnival) with my parents one summer when I was about 11. Through the course of the day I ate a few pickles. And later on some cantaloupe.

It was stiflingly hot. After we saw the animals, my sisters and I rode the Tilt-a-Whirl, our favorite ride. Something happened, though, after we got off the ride. Gurgling and burbling, the contents of my stomach were churning about and causing me pain and nausea.

I found a trashcan, topped with rotting-in-the-heat cotton candy, just in time to hurl.

It was decades before I could eat pickles or cantaloupe or cotton candy again.

Are you still with me? The answers get better, I promise. (At least I’ve given you low-hanging fruit [ahem] on which to comment.)

Looking at himself in the mirror, the old Jacob tries “to see beyond the sagging flesh.” But he claims, “It’s no good….I can’t find myself anymore. When did I stop being me?” How would you answer that question for yourself?
I’m not even halfway to Jacob’s age, but already I wonder, at times, where the 19 year-old Lori went. Or the 24 year-old Lori. Or the 37-year old Lori.

But I don’t feel I have ever stopped being me. If anything, I continually become more Me.

It seems like you go through the first part of your life adding to yourself. Trying on. Acquiring.

And the last part of your life is spent shedding. Discerning. And finally, losing. This part of Elder Jacob’s viewpoint brought a little panic to my innards. Like Jacob, I fear losing my stuff, my loves, my well- functioning body, control of my destiny.

Something that struck me about this book in particular was the rich, descriptive way the author handled Jacob as an elderly man. His frustration was so apparent, his physical manifestation so perfectly described, that of all of the elements of this book Jacob the Elderly is what stays with me. You had the sense that Jacob didn’t foresee his latter years being the way they were, and his almost “ride off into the sunset” ending perhaps what he had envisaged for his end. Do you think about what’s at the end of the road someday? When you think about it, what do you see for yourself?

Did you read A Prayer for Owen Meany? (spoiler alert: don’t read this paragraph if you plan to read the book). The premise of being able to see, in a premonition, your own tombstone both fascinates and frightens me. Would YOU want to know the date of your death?

Or the manner?

I once volunteered for Hospice. As part of the training, we had to write about our own death.

It was impossible for me. Try as I might, I could not come up with anything except the super-predictable and bland ending where I die in my sleep.

Let it be so. Let me be the picture of health until then. And let me have helped my children raise their children to adulthood.

Hop along to another stop on this blog tour by visiting the main list here.

One of my stupider moments

Recently I wrote about my own death (in case you’re new to my blog, I am not dying at a faster clip than anyone else, as far as I know).

Did you ever notice how people are so squeamish about death? Until the last six or seven decades, I imagine that death was not so hidden. During agricultural times, I think we were used to farm animals dying and to dressing our own dead, to having their remains sit in the parlor downstairs until we marched them in a pine box to the family plot in the community cemetery. Perhaps death wasn’t such a spook then.

Now, we are so unfamiliar with death that we don’t know how to process it when it inevitably comes into our lives. I try to think about it now and then. To at least be unafraid of my own thanatal thoughts when they come up.

Witness the lagoon of quicksand that swallows me when I take this stand with my children.

The other day in the car, Tessa asked if we could visit the grave site of my grandma, GG (for “great grandma”). I explained that GG was buried in another part of the state and that it was too far to go to today. Reed then asked where I would be buried.

I haven’t shied away from difficult subjects before (such as adoption and birth). Matter of factly, and answering only the question that was asked, I said that I didn’t want to be buried. Can you see where this is going?

Tessa said, “Then what will happen to you, Mommy?” I explained that cremation was another way to deal with a body after a spirit no longer needs it. “What’s carmation?” asked Reed.I explained as best I could. And can I just say that I didn’t know that their school had had a fire drill earlier that week?

The back seat freak-fest began. The Wailing. The Gnashing of Primary Teeth. “No! Mommy! I don’t want you to burn!” “Don’t burn up, Mommy!” “Mommy! PROMISE US YOU WON’T BE CARMATIONED!!!”

I had to pull over.

Lest you ever find yourself in a similar situation, take it from me. Don’t try logic. Don’t say, “But then you won’t have to go ANYwhere to visit me — I’ll be wherever you want me to.” Don’t try metaphysics, like “Once my spirit is gone, I won’t need my body anyway.” Don’t lie to them by promising something you have no intention of doing (thankfully I stopped short of that).

And even I knew not to try “I’d rather be quick-fried to a crackly crunch than be digested by worms and maggots.”

Yup, I’m great at knowing what NOT to say. But I can’t tell you what TO say. Please, YOU tell ME. Because it’s bound to come up again.

The best I could come up with was my most cheerful, “So! What shall we have for dinner tonight — pizza or chicken nuggets?”

Contemplating my own death…for no good reason

I’m listening to the Six Feet Under theme song. “Why do people have to die?” intones Clair in the background of a kicky instrumental. “To make life important,” responds Nate, in a clip taken from the show and inserted in a kind of rappy-way.

I love that show. Gino and I have been watching the series as a way of passing time while he recovers from his full paralysis. I’m sure when he and Tami (my sister) got the box set for me last Christmas that they didn’t know HE’d be watching so much of it with me.

I’ve seen the whole Six Feet Under series so I know how it ends. Here’s a hint if you haven’t: The tag line for the final season is Everything. Everyone. Everywhere. Ends.

In the brilliant series finale, everything does end. And it makes me think of how I will end.

When Tessa was a toddler, and while we were waiting for Reed, she and I volunteered with a hospice agency. We visited first Loretta and then Edna once a week as they experienced the act of dying. I felt privileged as each of these ladies allowed me to witness this very private process.

As part of the training for hospice volunteering, I was to imagine my own death and write about it. The more familiar we could be with the idea of death, the less freaked out we would be when talking with our clients about it.

I knew that “dying in my sleep” was a cop out. But I wasn’t able to do much better. Here’s my imagined scenario: at the age of 77 (double my age at the time), I suffer a heart attack. I leave a loving husband, a grown daughter, a son-in-law and two grandchildren. Two songs from Rent are played at my memorial service: Seasons of Love and Finale B. And the hymn, Earth and All Stars. Did you notice I said “memorial” and not “funeral”?

I really, really, really don’t want to be buried. It’s not because I’m claustrophobic (I’m not). It’s the bugs and worms and decay. I have less of a problem with cremation (see Stiff for more info on both of these options). It’s the lesser of two evils for me. See how I explain THIS to my children.

Is there anyone else here who allows their mind to occasionally wander to these places? (Or am I just a freak?)

Do tell.