This one hit home for me, an excerpt from “Swimming in a Sea of Death, A Son’s Memoir” from an interview by Terry Gross on NPR:
“Thinking back, I wish I’d hugged her close or held her hand. But neither of us had ever been physically demonstrative with the other, and while much has been said and written about how people transcend their pettier sides in crises, in my experience, at least, what actually happens is that more often we reveal what lies beneath the waterline of what we essentially are.”
In his book David Rieff writes about his mother, Susan Sontag, and her struggle with cancer. She died around the same time as my own mother, with mine being only a few years older. David voices some of the same “unanswerable questions of a survivor” that in hindsight plagued my ability to talk openly with my own mother about her failing health and the forced cheerfulness, or in my case ignorance, of the gravity of her diagnosis. And while my mother was not a famous writer, I can say without hesitation she loved life equally as much in her own way, whereas my feelings tend to drift towards the “…eighteenth-century French writer who wrote a friend asking “why, hating life as I do, do I fear death so much?” That was Larkin’s perspective, too. It was even Canetti’s when he wrote, “One should not confuse the craving for life with endorsement of it.” Regardless of a personal perspective on death, Rieff puts the difficulty of consoling another facing it into sharp focus, and everyone who has confronted similar situations will be left nodding their heads. He talks of the things he felt he should have seen, the do-overs if given the chance. He examines them without the overly sentimental perspective one would expect from a child who has lost a parent. They are simply those unanswerable questions we are each left with in the end, “Did I do the right thing? Could I have done more? Or proposed an alternative? Or been more supportive? Or forced the issue of death to the fore? Or concealed it better?” and there is no predicting them. Listening to him talk about what he wanted from her and what he felt she wanted in her own death is an interesting reflection on death and his mother’s struggle to deny it purchase.
“The Dead Bug Funeral Kit comes with a 32-page Illustrated Buggy Book of Eulogies with Ribbon Bookmark, Casket, Grave Marker, White Clay Flower, Burial Scroll, and Pouch of Grass Seed.” So this is where I show a lack of a sense of humor (which usually I pride myself on). But as silly as this is, it’s not very green. A cardboard box would be much more appropriate. And it’s expensive, comparatively, considering I believe a good bug is a dead bug. But then bugs are just not my thing. Bugs need to decompose to enrich the soil. We all do for that matter. Wouldn’t it be better to teach our kids those lessons than purchasing treacle in a tin? Or at least have them construct it carefully themselves? Or hey, junior’s first lesson in cremation perhaps? After all, what kid doesn’t like to burn things.
Anyway, so it’s kitschy. Ok-fine. As far a pop culture goes I’m far more interested in interpreting the dream at the end of No Country for Old Men. You may consider that link a spoiler if you haven’t seen the film, so if you’re sensitive about such things, just come back to it later. All Cohen brothers films are worth seeing on the big screen. I went to see it today while carting around the apocalyptic anthology Wastelands (which surprisingly contains no Cormac McCarthy) and it’s no wonder I’ve lost some of my sense of humor. Bleak as these stories are (and pleasing to my catastropharian soul), it’s hard to be that concerned for insects that will remain, and likely rejoice, long after the rest of us are dead and gone.
UPDATE: And now death takes a holiday in South Korea where a little over $300 will get you a fake funeral. I admit, what people willingly spend their money on is often beyond me.
When I think of important events in my life and how they’ve left their marks on my soul I also acknowledge their physical parallels in the marks on my body. We all have them, the scars acquired from bicycle accidents, chicken pox or surgery scars that are all unintentional marks with stories behind them. Then there are intentional marks, the tattoos that have become more common and less taboo in our society, each with its own story as well. When we think of saving stories about ourselves or our lives we don’t often consider those aspects. They become so much a part of us we must be reminded and queried, “Where’d you get that scar grandpa?” or “Why did you chose that particular design auntie?” before we think to include them in our biography ™. We think of life stories in terms of writing on paper or screen or the impressions we create with digital media. But what about the “writing on the body”? It’s analog but do we think of preserving it? Sometimes preservation happened unintentionally to be later found by archaeologists to prove the long history of tattoos along with other cultural artifacts, but not often intentionally. There are variations that come up in literature itself, or use the body to preserve the history of the donor. It’s called anthropodermic bibliopegy, and for most this seems a horrifying idea. I wonder why that is. How we became so fearful of physical remains. Why we would consider keeping our loved one’s ashes but not their skin, especially if it was marked with a story that was important to them at one time?