Friday, April 27, 2007

why's it so dead around here?

Frobi made the observation that funeral homes and stuff like that keep cropping up in my posts, and he's absolutely right. I may not have explained why, at least not all in one place, so I will now.
Pay attention. I'm only going to do this 50 or 60 more times.

In the small town I grew up in, my family acted as the caretakers of the local pioneer cemetery. We really did know where all the bodies were buried.
Most summer Sundays found the whole extended group of us there, mowing, arguing, scrubbing tombstones free of moss, clearing away faded arrangements and repairing vandalism.
These are very happy memories. My grandmother was always there with her gardening butcher knife in one hand and her clippers in the other. We'd drag in a huge white sheet filled with fresh flowers from her garden and we'd decorate everyones' marker with them. Our people first, of course.
It was always a beautiful day. The place was filled with enormous, glorious flowering trees and shrubs of all descriptions which grew with the kind of rank vigor that I've only seen vegetation in Oregon's climate exhibit. Hummingbirds were everywhere, bees everywhere, and robins nested in the decorative finials topping the tallest stones. Sometimes deer cropped the grass and watched us.
Because many times families could not afford a stone at the time of burial, it was common to mark a grave with a distinctive plant. Some of the plots were perfect small garden rooms in themselves, planted with cypress and cedar and yew and box, all symbols of everlasting life.
The Infant's Garden overlooked the valley. Small white lambs slept atop many of the stones. The saddest one bore an empty nest in a wreath of marble ivy. I always decorated their graves first, and was certain that this cheered them up. My grandmother aided and abetted this by sneaking live trilliums from the edges of the woods and transplanting them atop the little plots so there would always be a beautiful flower on each one every spring.

Thanks to this experience, graveyards hold no terror or icky fascination for me; no more than any other over-decorated park or garden might. In fact some of the best head I've ever

never mind.

Because my adopted parents were also quite a bit older than average, I spent a greater than average amount of time at rest homes, hospitals and attending funerals.
Hospitals back then were pretty grim places for a little kid, what with the low lights and whispering and the smell of Lysol and boiled food. And as far as the 'rest homes' go, let me tell you - back then your average rest home was a Dickensian nightmare. They reeked of urine and mildew, and I mean stank DOWN THE STREET. I've described in other places being a child, standing next to the beds of people so shrunken by age and disease that they were translucent, people covered in stained dressings who seemed to be dissolving, people black with cancer, or literally rotting away with bedsores...people hung with tubes attached to machines that exited directly into open buckets on the floor.

All this made a lasting impression on me. It also made me immune to the 'romance' of death, praise Jesus!

When you spend as much time as I do dog- sick, you have a lot of time to worry about your mortality. When you throw clinical depression into the mix, you get a degree of worry that fades from indigo to utter black. That's not so much of a problem for me these days. But I tell you what, when I'm feeling like shit, sometimes dying still scares me.
Being scared pisses me off. Being pissed off and scared makes me want to stop being pissed off and scared. The way to do that is to learn about what's scaring you and pissing you off. So I learn. And you know what? Dead shit is interesting.

I have had a really strange life. It's made me a really strange person. Really strange, and really brave, and really partially informed about a whole hell of a lot of really different things.
I like that pretty well.
Welcome to my blog.


  1. The existential crisis of confronting one's own mortality coupled with a sense of isolation in a hostile, empty, universe, utter despair that there isn't an afterlife, and dying without knowing Who Put the Bop in the Bop-She-Bop-She-Bop, is a desperately tedious and depressing affair.

    In the immortal words of Dr. Frederick Frankenstein "From that fateful day when stinking bits of slime first crawled from the sea and shouted to the cold stars, "I am man.", our greatest dread has always been the knowledge of our mortality."

    Let us cast our thoughts upon puppies, daffodils and fresh coffee..and since it is Sunday Morning...

    Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes
    "For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion.
    For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.
    Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest."

    Away with you Death, and let us never speak of it again.

    Thus endeth today's sermon and switchin' to decaf.

  2. i am scared of dying, mainly because living is starting to be really fun again.


    oh look! a mouse! over there!

    *runs away*

  3. Oh death, what was that line from the Flaming Lips song 'do you realise' - something about every body you know/meet will one day die. Well that's how I think, safety in numbers, unavoidable. I saw a programme on Wilderbeast all charging across savanahs getting trampled & eaten. All they wanted to do was eat and mate - they weren't too preoccupied with the afterlife.

    Is it the Buddhists who believe we are in hell now?

  4. Kristy3:07 PM

    A few years back I became clinically depressed. I finally realized that my condition coincided with a change in my blood pressure medication. A change in meds cured the condition, but not before I'd purchased a pair of cemetery plots in anticipation of my anticipated demise. Hey, it seemed perfectly reasonable at the time. Actually, I don't regret having taken that rather extreme action, because four generations of my family are in one of those Oregon pioneer cemeteries. I always figured I'd eventually join them, but those cemeteries are getting full (people are dying to get in, yeah, hardy har har). Anyway, I've got my spot now, and that's one less decision my kids will have to worry about when the time comes. I love those cemeteries too. I just hope they can arrange to have a winged skull on my tombstone. You just don't see enough of those here on the west coast.

  5. Anonymous7:54 PM

    visiting cemetaries is usually interesting for me. it's like history, you're going around seeing who people are and when they died. my mom and I "adopted" a little girl at my church's cemetary. she had our last name but we didn't have any knowledge of how or if she was related to us. so every holiday and on other occasions, we decorate her grave.

    i think it's sweet that y'all do that for people.

  6. You know I like your blog pretty well too. You are indeed a font of information - this post no exception.

  7. hendrix3:30 AM

    There are times when the idea of death throws me into just the utter black you mentioned. Not so much my death but the death of the people I love.

    Having said that, I rather like cemetery's - the older the better. When we lived out in the country our house was next to the village cemetery (it must have had all of twenty graves in it - this was a really small village). It wasn't a particularly grand looking cemetery - it just looked like a walled in patch of moorland with a few lichen covered crumbling stones but I remember it was a very peaceful place to sit and read.

  8. New cemeteries suck; they often don't allow any standing headstones, as it makes it to hard to mow and weedwhack.

    My grandma was a big one for the cemeteries. We'd be driving along on a road trip, probably out in the desert, and she'd pop up with "Oh, look, let's stop, there's a cemetery!" like a kid spotting a Dairy Queen. She'd tell people "I like to go visit the people who don't get out too much," meaning, of course, dead people.

    And people wonder where I get my warped sense of humor from.

    Her husband died 40-something years before she did, and she had a plot option, but didn't avail herself of it, so when Grandma died we had Grandpa dug up and re-buried deeper, and put Grandma on top. At the service, some people commented on the unusual-ness of the grave situation, and The Ex remarked "It's better with the woman on top, anyway." All my family laughed their asses off, but Grandma's church friends were rather shocked. Grandma would have definitely giggled, though.

  9. I too had the older than average parents who, in turn, had parents older than average so the relatives were dropping like flies from the time I was born. The cemetery was a playground to me. And each time I travel, I visit the local cemetery whether I know any of its residents or not. The cemeteries of New Orleans practically make me orgasmic.

  10. I hate the idea of being buried in the earth almost as much as the idea of being burnt to a cinder. (Although the ghost of the Sopwith-Camel and Pilot that haunt me managed to do both, piling full-tilt into the mud of the Somme in a ball of fire).

    I prefer the idea of becoming bleached bones in some barren part of the earth, like the dead climbers who cling to the slopes of Everest.

  11. On the English side of my family, all of the brothers and sisters of my mother's generation used to treat a visit to the cemetery or crematorium as if it was a day trip to the coast (well, they were a very poor family, and didn't get out much). With their poor mortality rate, there were a lot of "departed" to visit.

    Because both my parents died from long gruesome battles with cancer (and heart disease too with my dad) I got to see unpleasant stuff in hospital wards at an early age. I don't know if that affects you psychologically, but, put it this way, I definitely don't have a romanticised view of death but I do have a major fear of the big C ...

  12. Lovely post, FN. You are a fascinating creature, indeed. ;o)

    I'm glad writing about your fear helps you fight the blackness. I'm not sure it does that for me, when I've got the fear of death in me.

    Of course, I prefer the fear of death to the days I think "death would probably be much better than what we've got going on here."

    That said, when I was all woo-woo and Buddhist-esque for a while, I actually didn't have either of these extreme viewpoints, but looked at death and life as two side of the same coin, each having advantages and a purpose in the natural order, and each being good.

    I'd like to find my way back to that way of thinking. It's much easier...

  13. I dont think much about death as it happens , obviously I am gonna cop it one day , so I dont waste much time worrying about it(does that make me shallow ???) , now sex , donuts and winding my friends up , that is worth wasting my mental energies on.

  14. I don't know if it's easier da-nator, but it feels a whole hell of a lot better.

    I often find myself thinking about the end of "Hannah and Her Sisters" when Woody Allen is rigid with dread about his own mortality and wanders into a movie theatre only to be reminded by the Marx Brothers about life's joys. Groucho playing a line of soldiers' helmets can do that to a person.

    The buddhists aren't the ones who say we are in hell now -- they are the ones that say "Now is all there is."
    Welcome to it.

  15. what I want to know is how come you know so much about little helicopters?

  16. I'm not scared of what happens after death. what scares me is the PROCESS of dying. the physical aspects. what happens to the physical body just before, during, and after that bothers me. i am a big squick chicken when it comes to pain, doctors and illness. THAT's the fear that I'm trying to overcome.

    the spiritual stuff? i am at peace with that stuff, which is a nice place to be. if there is a god, the ball's in his/hers'/its'/ their court anyway. if not, i figure one has no control over that part because one is dead, so it's not worth any sweat off one's tits.

  17. ..and tiny helicopters are how tiny cows get around. they have tiny pilots' licenses.

  18. When I lived in Westborough, Massachusetts my frontyard was the original town cemetary. I used to sit there on April 14th every year and do my taxes. There was something poetic in that...

    Frobi: I don't know if the buddhists believe we are in hell now, but Christopher Marlowe postulates that very idea in "Dr. Faustus."

    for a comedic look at confronting mortality, go to and read the strip 9 Chickweed Lane (from the pull-down menu). All the strips this past week have been dedicated to that, and they're hilarious!

  19. Frobi, it's not the Buddhists who believe we're in hell now. It's the polish girls that work in Aldis.

  20. Thanks to Tickers I almost did the 'snort drink through nose' thing. I'd presumed it was blogging myth....

  21. Strange is good. I used to sleep in cemetaries a lot back in my ne'er-do-well days. No, the other ne-er-do-well days. If you have nowhere to go, they're a place no one much bothers you and if someone does bother you a stake through the heart usually does the trick.

  22. Since my dad died in 1988, I have regularly visited the cemetery. My kids were little and they would go with me. They got used to it and just played around while I put flowers on my dad's marker and had a good cry. Death is part of life, I'm not really afraid of it, just don't want to suffer, just like you said, FN.

  23. I'm not afraid of dying, there are a lot worse that can happen, I am afraid of how lonely the bloggers I leave behind will be without my witty insight.