Tag Archives: death

Settling In and Some Thoughts About Death

Tonight marks one week that I’ve been in my new apartment.  All of us – the two dogs, the stealth cats and I – seem to be settling in, although it is a lot to get used to after living in my own stand-alone home for the past 12 years (less four months of shared space with my ex and his family after Superstorm Sandy).  Of course, the work hasn’t begun on my house yet, but that’s why a year’s lease might not turn out to be such a bad thing.  Now that I’ve got a new roof over my and my creatures’ heads, the construction involved with elevating and renovating my house can proceed at its own pace.  (It should go without saying that the work must actually PROCEED at some point, but no need to worry about that just yet).

We’re still surrounded by boxes; in fact, I think some things – like the pictures that used to cover my walls – are going to stay in boxes until we move back in.  I don’t mind the lack of decoration, as long as it’s only temporary.  I confess that I am one of those people who like to be surrounded by personal touches that reflect my personality and the things that I love.  For example, when I’m at my computer and drift off into thought, I often stare at the bulletin board on the wall over my screen.  What’s on my bulletin board?  Well, here’s a photo (the bulletin board is currently not ON the wall at the moment, but that is one thing that I think I am going to end up hanging):  an Obama finger puppet, an illustration of famous noses, colorful ball magnets, a list of my monthly bills, some inspirational quotes –you know, the usual.

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I wanted the move to serve as kind of a purge so I could get rid of things that I don’t use or want anymore, but the problem is that I have a tendency to keep things even when I have no apparent use or want for them.  I think that’s something I inherited from my mother, although I internally fight against it.  Moving my mother into the basement apartment at my sister’s house from a four-bedroom home in which she had lived for over 40 years was a trauma I want to avoid re-enacting at all costs.  There was so much stuff in her house that she had forgotten what was even there.  A lot of it was rusted and rotted and moldy and gross, buried for years under still more assorted detritus.  At one point, the extra bedroom (the “spare room”) was so full there was only a small path from the door to about halfway into the room where you could basically survey the entire junk collection and possibly even reach what you might be looking for at the time.  Her basement was in much the same condition, and don’t even get me started on her closets!

I remember she had a bright yellow jersey jumpsuit from the ‘70s in her closet that she refused – REFUSED – to part with, to the point of angry tears.  We probably should have called in the “Hoarding:  Buried Alive” folks.  It was a supremely painful process, but we finally got her out, and there was very little space in her new apartment for her to hold on to her precious trash (although, of course, she still managed to collect and retain enough crap to piss off my brother-in-law, to the point where he accused her of being a fire hazard).

I went to put some yellow carnations at her and my grandmother’s niches on Mother’s Day, although my feelings about death are fluid.  I tend to think that when you die, you’re dead, adios, nothing, nada, no more.  (Jon Snow on Game of Thrones, after returning from the dead [SORRY- FAILED SPOILER ALERT!], said basically the same thing.)  But I’d certainly be open to considering that there is an alternate plane where our individual consciousnesses (is that the true plural?) kind of hang out until there’s some other use for us (i.e., reincarnation), or maybe even another planet in the vast solar system where souls go to be reconfigured after they die on Earth.

The issue I’ve always had with reincarnation is, why don’t we remember our prior lives?  Years ago I was past-life regressed via hypnotism.  As I recall, it was an extremely odd experience.  I went in very skeptically, and emerged no less skeptical, but SOMETHING clearly happened to me there.  It might have just been the calming effect of the hypnosis, conducted by a strange man in a hotel room with a gentle touch and a mesmerizing voice.  That I even trusted a total stranger to be alone with me, in the dark, in a random Sheraton in NYC was in itself highly unusual for me, and the process probably cost a sum of money that I definitely couldn’t afford at the time on my paltry editorial assistant’s salary.  But for some reason I wanted to give it a go.  One of these days, I’ll look through my journals to see what I recounted there about the episode because my memory of it is spotty, but the bottom line is that I did actually have a couple of “memories”, or “fantasies”, or “involuntarily made-up scenarios” – who knows what they were, really – that might have been me remembering prior lives.  One scene involved me sitting on a fire escape in a slip dress in some early 20th century city, crying about my brother (or boyfriend) who hadn’t come home from the war.  Another featured me as a young man, riding a horse in some medieval glen – as I recall, I think trusted that “memory” less because it was sort of King Arthur-ish; perhaps I had seen Excalibur recently – seemingly upset about a female (my sister?) who had died.  In each instance, I wept, openly and uncontrollably, and suffered an inexplicable depth of sadness.  The hypnotist guy explained that we’re able to pick up on those past-life memories that involve the most deeply felt emotions, but otherwise we have simply forgotten the day-to-day minutiae of our former lives.

The other thing that confuses me about the endurance of our consciousness is where it is HOUSED, for lack of a better term.  When I was an assistant editor at OMNI Magazine and running their fledgling OMNI Online service (one of the first-ever magazines available over the Interwebs!), I once had a long-running online debate with cryonics proponents from an organization called ALCOR Life Extension Foundation and even wrote an article about it for OMNI Magazine (with Paul Bagne, “Souls on Ice:  Cryoscience,” OMNI Magazine, October 1986).  These folks spend thousands of dollars to preserve their physical bodies (or, in some cases, just their brains) with the expectation that some future civilization will not only develop the science needed to reanimate them but also to cure whatever might have killed them in the first place.  The whole thing has always been ridiculous to me, but these people are passionate – perhaps bordering on the fanatical – about it.  In fact, they even managed to convince Tim Urban, creator of the brilliant “Wait But Why” website [waitbutwhy.com] and an expert in procrastination (see “Procrastination Station”, 10/14/15), who went into his exploration as a doubter but came out kind of converted.  [Tim Urban, “Why Cryonics Makes Sense”, http://waitbutwhy.com/2016/03/cryonics.html%5D.

But I digress.  My point is, even though I believe my mother and my grandmother are not somehow resident where their ashes are, held in niches in Pinelawn Memorial Park, on either side of my grandfather’s, I still go there and put flowers at the foot of the wall below the stones engraved with their names and years of birth and death.  I still say hi and talk to them, because I promised my mother on her literal deathbed that I would and because it can’t possibly hurt.  Besides which, YOU NEVER KNOW:  their spirits could be hovering nearby.  Or even just the fact that I am thinking about them – no matter their location, on whatever astral plane – evokes their souls, wherever they might be.

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Speaking of death – SPOILERS AHEAD!! – Jon Snow is no longer dead on Game of Thrones.  It was inevitable.  He is the hero whose journey involved a descent into the netherworld, as all good heroes do.  I don’t have my copy of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces handy – it’s in a box somewhere, of course – or my Book of Tarot, which follows the journey of the Fool down into the underworld and back again in cards such as Death, the Hanged Man and the Wheel of Fortune (not that HORRIBLE game show for idiots that I refuse to have on my TV), where love and death are equally dispensed but it all eventually comes back around again.  The surprising thing, though, is that Jon Snow said he saw NOTHING when he died:  no heaven, no wise advisor telling him it wasn’t his time.  Of course, this must give him a whole new perspective on life, knowing that there’s nothing waiting for him on the other side.

One final GOT thought, this time about the polar opposite Snow bastard, Ramsay Bolton.  In the days after the weekly GOT installment, I am so filled with excitement about what I’ve seen, I want to read and watch everything I can about it, spending way too much time scrolling through the recaps and thought pieces in the days following the Sunday night episode as a way to keep myself engaged while waiting the long 7 days till my next GOT fix.  For example, the website Vox.com has a new article every day by the members of their editorial staff looking at different aspects of that week’s episode or the show (or books) more generally.  Last week there was an article saying that the brutality on GOT was becoming gratuitous, and that Ramsay’s “ultraviolence” was excessive and pointless.  I disagree.  In fact, I use the term “ultraviolence” purposely and specifically as a reference to one of my favorite movies of all time, A Clockwork Orange.  At least Ramsay has a motive for his monstrosities:  to retain his power and hold on the North by instilling fear in others.  Alex in Clockwork had NO motive for his ultraviolence other than, basically, boredom and being the youthful product of a perverted social system.

The two scenes in episode 2 (“Home”) featuring Ramsay were masterfully creepy, I thought.  First, while his murder of his father Roose Bolton may not have been a total shock, because of the way the scene was staged, you’re not exactly sure at first who has stabbed whom.  Ramsay’s faced showed as much pain and surprise as Roose’s.  And then, as Ramsay walks through the courtyard with the clueless Walda carrying her swaddled newborn, the dread you feel – you KNOW he has to kill at least the baby, if not both of them, but how?  Was he going to drop/throw/stab the baby when he asked to hold him? Then, when he brought them into the dog kennels, you wondered, is he going to toss the baby and/or Walda into a cage?  But no – the action was drawn out, torturing the viewer as much as Walda, as Ramsay methodically opened all the cages, one by one, and then let out a low, horrifying whistle, after which all we hear are poor fat Walda’s tortured screams.  It was INEVITABLE.  Roose had created a monster from the start, and then kept baiting him.  You would have thought Roose was smarter than to be so easily victimized but he might have been blinded by his own smug superiority.

And you ALSO know that Walder Frey is not going to just sit back and take the murder of his child and grandchild.  Just look at what he did to the Starks because Robb broke his promised betrothal to one of the many Frey daughters!  For Ramsay to actually KILL his heir and link to the North – well, despicable Walder Frey will not let that stand.  Sic the sociopaths on one another!  Root for them BOTH to die!  (Yikes! – So bloodthirsty!  See what effect GOT has had on me?)

Some Thoughts on Death

I’ve been thinking a lot about death lately.  I don’t intend to; it just comes upon me, unbidden (much like actual death might do).  The recent losses of Bowie and countless celebrities, my friend Rhonda, hundreds of regular people killed by cars and gunmen and falling trees – it’s all around, every minute of every day.

By now I’ve outlived my father, who died at age 49 from the last of multiple heart attacks.  In fact, no man on the Lucas side of the family had lived past the age of 50.  I think his mother also died relatively young, and also from a heart attack.  I don’t have many memories of Grandma Mary from Bayonne, New Jersey, which must have meant I was pretty young when she passed away.  My mother and her mother both died in their early 70s, but aside from them (and my maternal uncle, who not only was the lone boy among four sisters and the youngest but also died in his 40s from complications of diabetes, which afflicts many members of my mother’s side of the family, me included), the bulk of my maternal relatives was pretty long-lived.  My great grandmother Petronella Albino lived to be 102, although by the time she passed away she was almost completely bent in half due to severe osteoporosis.  So I console myself that at least half of my genes hint at longevity, although my mother’s sister died in her 50s from cancer (the only one among my immediate family to do so, interestingly enough).

But healthy genes are one thing.  Death could also be immediate and unexpected, like the folks who go to work or school one day and then never come home, felled by a madman with an assault weapon on a vendetta.  Or like the family coming home from a wedding in a limo on the Meadowbrook Parkway here on Long Island a few years ago, mowed down by a drunk driver on the wrong side of the road.  Or the four ladies, smart enough to hire a driver on a winery tour on Long Island’s East End, murdered by a guy in a pickup who’d had a few too many.

My biggest fear of death (other than some terrible accident) is having a heart attack, primarily because of my family history but also because I have a chronic musculoskeletal condition called costochondritis, which originates in my back but radiates to my ribs on my left side.  Every time I feel a painful twinge there, I think, “This is it.  Now what?”  My other big fear is a sudden brain aneurysm, which killed my college friend, Martha Brochin, herself a doctor, quite suddenly, about 15 years ago.  Every time I have a particularly severe headache, my first thought is immediately, “Is this a brain aneurysm?”  Although it might not seem so based on my prior statements, generally speaking, I’m not much of a hypochondriac – in fact, quite the opposite:  I will try to explain away every twinge or feeling of light-headedness as something innocuous – but specifically as to heart attacks and brain aneurysms, they DO cross my mind.

With my daughter away at college, I live alone with a bunch of companion animals, but they would be of little use if, like those white-haired ladies in the Life Alert commercials, I fall and I can’t get up.  There’s that morbid joke about cat ladies becoming nothing more than cat food if they happen to pass away and no one discovers them for a few days or weeks.  That might be me.  I’m so much of a hermit that, apart from my daughter, not many people call me on a regular basis.  So it could be WEEKS before anyone found me, like that man George Bell in the article by N.R. Kleinfield in the New York Times [“The Lonely Death of George Bell, New York Times, 10/18/15, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/18/nyregion/dying-alone-in-new-york-city.html?ref=topics&_r=0%5D ],whose death inspired Kleinfield’s investigation into what happens when people die alone in New York City.  Unlike George Bell, however, I do have a family ready to deal with my funeral and estate when I’m gone, although I don’t yet have a formal will.  (It’s on my perpetual “to do” list.)

I am only 56, and I would hope to be able to enjoy a nice long life in retirement (if you’re at all familiar with this blog, you have probably – and correctly – assumed that I intend to retire as early as I possibly can, even if that means having to get a part-time job at the local CVS to supplement my meager Social Security income), but hey, you never know what’s around the corner, which is one of the reasons I am trying hard to be joyful every day rather than wasting valuable hours lamenting my current lack of fulfillment in my work and life.

I saw an episode of the cutting-edge news series VICE the other day about assisted suicide and the “right to die” movement [Season 4 Episode 3].  It is a multi-layered topic, to be sure, but as an overarching concept, I fully support people choosing when and how they die, especially if they are dealing with chronic, painful and debilitating conditions, or even severe depression.  There is a certain dignity to being able to make the most significant choice in one’s life – to bring about its end; to be here, and then NOT here.  And this is regardless of whatever you may believe about what happens to us after we die – and frankly, this is something that we will never know UNTIL WE ACTUALLY DIE.  As far as I am aware, no one has definitively and “officially” (i.e., with empirical proof) come back from the dead to tell us about the experience except to say that it involves rising out of one’s body and moving toward a white light.  But THEN WHAT?

The last thing I want to do is to die right now.  I don’t want to leave this earthly plane until I’m well into my 90s and I just plain run out of gas.  Perhaps I should make the effort to take a little better care of myself:  stop drinking so much diet soda (which is literally poisoning me, I am certain, but that doesn’t seem to stop me from doing it), eat healthy foods, exercise and lose some weight.  Do yoga and meditate.  Maintain a more positive outlook.

But I also should do more things I love rather than spending so much time chasing the almighty dollar (despite how unfortunately NECESSARY that is, as I’ve complained about often in my blog posts), because no matter how healthy I strive to be, today – or any day – could be my last day on earth.

Such a Debbie Downer post this week – [insert sliding trombone wah-wah sound effect here] – sorry!  In order to counteract the melancholy vibe, here’s a happy little quote posted by a guy named Robert Westerburg, who describes himself as a “world class coach,” that I found on Facebook back in October 2015 [https://www.facebook.com/robert.westerburg/posts/10208175960103122], although I note that a comment to Westerburg’s post attributes the quote to someone named Crystal Boyd, who had originally published it in a piece called “Happiness is a Journey” in her book, Midnight Muse, in 2000, and reprinted on her website [http://happinessisajourney.com]:

“We convince ourselves that life will be better after we get married, have a baby, then another.  Then we are frustrated that the kids aren’t old enough, and we’ll be more content when they are.  After that, we’re frustrated that we have teenagers to deal with.  We will certainly be happy when they are out of that stage.

“We tell ourselves that our life will be complete when our partner gets his or her act together when we get a nicer car, are able to go on a nice holiday, when we retire.

“The truth is, there’s no better time to be happy than right now. If not now, when?

“Your life will always be filled with challenges.

“It’s best to admit this to yourself and decide to be happy anyway.

“A quote comes from Alfred D. Souza. He said, ‘For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin – real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, or a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.’

“This perspective has helped me to see that there is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way.

“So, treasure every moment that you have and treasure it more because you shared it with someone special, special enough to spend your time . . . and remember that time waits for no one.

“So, stop waiting until you lose ten pounds, until you gain ten pounds, until you have kids, until your kids leave the house, until you start work, until you retire, until you get married, until you get divorced, until Friday night, until Sunday morning, until you get a new car or home, until your car or home is paid off, until spring, until summer, until winter, until your song comes on, until you’ve had a drink . . . there is no better time than right now to be happy.

“Happiness is a journey, not a destination.

“Work like you don’t need money, love like you’ve never been hurt, and dance like no one’s watching.”