16 April 2010

Dearth Minus R Equals Death

For me, as for many people, the impulse to post ebbs and flows. There are weeks when the posts just pour out of me, so much so that I've got them scheduled into the future and then I have to shuffle them because something comes up that's more timely. Then there are times like right this very minute when, despite a sheaf of clippings in my bag along with a dozen draft posts, I have nothing. Maybe it's because I just can't top the Popsicornian.

Those draft posts and scraps of paper are gnawing at me, though. I'm going to work through them, or toss them. I could use the room in my bag.

A year before my mother died, she entered hospice care. At the time, I didn't think she was going to last out the month; she'd become so very weak. Because death seemed so imminent, death was much on my mind, so much so that I dropped two "clippings" from the New York Times into Google docs.

The first was a heartbreaking story about a Chinese earthquake, one that claimed the lives of many children when their school collapsed.

The bodies are everywhere. Some are zipped inside white vinyl bags and strewn on the floor. Others have been covered in a favorite blanket or dressed in new clothes. There are so many bodies that undertakers want to cremate them in groups. They are all children...But the awful scene at this local morgue is a sad reminder that too many of the dead are children in a country where most families are allowed to have only one.

The other was a quote that appeared in an editorial "Appreciation" of Nuala O’Faolain, an Irish writer then unfamiliar to me, who'd just died.

"I know loads and loads of songs, and what’s the point of it all?" she said. "So much has happened, and it seems such a waste of creation, that with each death all that knowledge dies."

Why? Why do we live? Why do we die? In 100 years, will anyone remember me? Will my daughter remember my mother? My mother was never really the fun granny; she was diagnosed with cancer when my child was about 15 months old. Sure, the three of us went to California together, and she spent plenty of time at Granny's house, but recently we walked along the brick walkway at her old daycare, and when we came to the brick marked MOKY, she said "who's Moky?" And I died a little inside. Right now, she remembers Granny, but not Moky, and Granny's going to evaporate.

Obviously, it's a rhetorical question, but why? What's it all about, Alfie?


Kelly said...

I have to believe that we go on in some capacity, whatever that is. At least, I hope.

So many kind and creative souls...perhaps death isn't the end of that love and knowledge.

I think back to part of a poem Donald Hall write to his late wife, the poet Jane Kenyon. He wrote, 'Now you know if the soul survives death...or you don't.'

Janet said...

Maybe if you wrote a story about Moky..tell stories about your Mom, that might help, no? Sorry, I know giving assvice sucks...but it's always the first thing to pop to mind. HUGS!

Anonymous said...

No, I think you're absolutely right, Janet. My MIL is a great story teller. She has dozens of seemingly simple stories about everyone in the family and tells them regularly. I never met my husband's father, but I'm sure I'll be able to bring him to life to my own grandchildren, thanks to everything I know about him.

Heide Estes said...

My grandmother died five years before Zeke was born, but I tell him things about her fairly often, and I tell him that people we love live on in our hearts. It's what I need to believe, or else it hurts too much (still!) that she's gone.

Liz said...

Maggie, please tell stories about Moky to Miranda and to other people as well; the way to keep friends and family alive and present; run for her, walk for her, read for her. You would love Nuala O'Faolain; I have read a lot of her books.

Jody said...

The ultimate question.

I don't know. I do believe, a little a lot, in something more than this, but if I'm wrong, I try to be OK with that. Maybe it will be OK that YOU remember Moky, and your memories, and the life you shared with her, will alter all the people who live with you, and remember you.

I don't know.

The Homesteading Hussy said...

I still love the story of you seeing that pebble. And maybe you could start a keepsake box of old items and new items (the pebble) that you and your daughter could go through now and again. I know if I had a keepsake box that had all my mother's favorite things in it, it would mostly be made up of chocolate. But how fun for my daughter and me to remember her spirit through I nice piece of German chocolate!

Some day...thanks for making me think about that.

Unknown said...

Shamefully, these are the questions that I try not to think about, let alone ask or answer.

Oooh, I see something shiny...

Did it work?

Linda said...

I too often think about how long we will be remembered after death. Perhaps that's why people enjoy genealogy. It's a way to hold on the the memories.

Anonymous said...

Death freaks me out. FREAKS ME OUT. I have a hard time understanding how other people can not be bothered by its very existence.

Bibliomama said...

I've been feeling the same (and it's not because I can't top my clean bathroom pic -- the Popsicornian however, is truly a tough act to follow). I was at the hospital all day Tuesday waiting with family to see if my husband's grandmother was going to pull through. I've been pretty sheltered on the death front, and they've been a big part of our lives since we moved an hour away from them about twelve years ago -- I know I can't dodge that bullet forever and odds were good they would be my first up close and personal experience with the yawning void of mortality. And I'm just stuck. Should I blog about it? Should I not? How do I blog about anything else? How do you get to the end of it without getting to the end of it?

MARY G said...

The major reason I started to blog was to leave a record of who I am for my small granddaughter. I realized that I knew little or nothing about my grandmother who died before I was four and I feel bereft that I have so few memories and keepsakes of her. So I am leaving a record of who I am.

There are a lot of days when I don't post because I am totally unenthused about what I have written or can't find anything new to say. Maybe I could inherit some scraps from your bag?

Beck said...

One of my friends has a small suitcase that was her father's, and in it she put some very tactile things of his - a picture of him as a young man, postcards he wrote, his wallet with his cards, his pipe, a toy truck that was his as a child - and once in a while, she opens that suitcase and she and her child have a playdate with Papa.

I don't know what comes after. I have enough faith that I think I know, but.

Julia said...

It's not a rhetorical question at all.

Many ancient cultures (or at least those that didn't have a developed theology of an afterlife) believed that one lived on through one's offspring. That's why, for example, you see long lists of 'begats' in the Bible; the idea of eternal life didn't emerge (or wasn't revealed) until later.

There's a great deal of wisdom in the idea that Moky lives on in you. You know how she shaped you, how her spirit lives in you, how in some senses she hasn't died because part of you comes from her. Some of that will get passed on to M.

As to Nuala O’Faolain's quote, I think the value of knowing things like songs is that they prevent life from being a living death. If you consider life as an opportunity to get a taste of joy, and build your life around the things that add joy to the lives of those around you, you have fulfilled a purpose, whether you are remembered a hundred years from now or not.

As Mother Teresa said, "We can do no great things, only small things with great love."

You are doing great, small things with your daughter. Part of that comes from all the great, small things your mother did with you, with love.

S said...

I know.

12 just asked me if it was OK that he wasn't really too sad about his grandmother having died.

And then he added, "Because, you know, I didn't know her very well."

But he did, he DID. He was just too little to remember it now.

And that makes me sad.

FreshHell said...

I recently read Julian Barnes' "Nothing to be Frightened Of" which discusses this very thing. Esp as an atheist. I enjoyed it a lot though he never could completely rid himself of his fear of death, the supposed pointlessness of life - he talks about immortality of a writer but that at some point there will be that Last Reader and then his books will disappear as if they've never existed, etc.

slow panic said...

i'm trying hard to spend most of my time in the moment -- because i tend very much to freak out about both the past and the future....

Gwen said...

Recently I've been considering that the only usable function of death is to remind us to live. Which is way harder than it should be, apparently.

I liked Julia's comment above. Soon enough my own grandmother will be erased from the memory of her descendants, but the things that made the space she inhabited such a special one are being passed on, however subtly.

bernthis said...

my kid doesn't see my parents very often thanks to my lovely ex husband. It pains me to know that they can't see her growing and changing.

Reading about those kids was heartbreaking, I remember when it happened. Being the parent of only one child made it all the more poignant.

What's it all about? for me? laughter, love and chocolate.

alejna said...

You know, Magpie, I've had this post open in my browser for days now, meaning to come back and write some sort of comment. I still can't figure out what I want to say.

I like the idea of telling stories and sharing memories. Have you looked at old photos of your mother with your daughter? That can be a good starting point.