Saturday, September 28, 2013

I just woke up from a nap so deep I have not yet managed to really struggle to the surface.

I think I have death fatigue.

Every death brings back every death, or so they say. I just said that to Molly, Dottie's granddaughter when we met to sprinkle her grandmother's ashes last night, tears running down her face, her beautiful not-quite-year-old-son in her arms. And this year it's been this death and then that death and then another and today was the third church-funeral I've attended this year and we didn't even have a funeral for my mother which, if there is a god, may he/she forgive me but whatever.

Anyway, if there is a god, he/she smiled down on Dottie today for her going-away party and Mr. Moon cleaned up the Cutlass and we drove to town with the top down, the sky as blue as the car and people smiled and waved, that car's engine rumbles and throbs unlike cars' engines these days; you know you are in a big old American Automobile, it eats the road, chomp, chomp, it runs on dinosaur blood and the sky was wide above us and the smiles were all around us and we got to the church and it was filled.

Dottie attended the First Presbyterian Church in downtown Tallahassee and it's the whitest church I've ever seen. I am pretty sure there was nothing on the walls, none of those banners proclaiming Christ The King or anything like that, no stained glass, just two beautiful flower arrangements with sunflowers and purple flowers and red flowers, nothing funereal about it at all and Dottie would have loved it. She had planned out the whole thing and the minister said that the only problem was that if we had sung all the hymns she had asked for, we would have had to take a break for lunch and then come back to sing again so there were only about five or six hymns and we entered singing and we left singing and a man who had been Dottie's neighbor since 1965 did most of the talking and he was funny and he knew her and he was honest and so it was a good service.
And the minister spoke about all of the things Dottie did in that church and for the church and how she knew everyone in it and welcomed them all, personally, and wrote them all notes and she was like that. Just gregarious and outgoing and it's so funny, because despite all the life Dottie had in that church, I never once, not ONCE, heard her mention God or Christ or Jesus, not even when Lynn was dying. The man who talked about Dottie quoted Woodrow Wilson, I think, who said (and I am going to fucking remember this) that you can fake concern but you can't fake showing up and Dottie showed up.
And a whole lot of people showed up to tell her good-bye.

May and I shared a hymnal and she sang in her beautiful soprano and I growled along in my alto and the service ended, we left the building, with everyone singing "I'll Fly Away" and that was when I cried.

Afterwards there was food, of course, and Church Lady Punch (ginger-ale and juice, my favorite) and a slideshow of pictures of Dottie over the course of her life, the way people do now. She was a knock-out, that woman, redheaded and gorgeous, tall and thin and athletic and there were pictures of all her babies as babies and then kids and then adults and there were pictures of course, of her daughter, my friend Lynn from when she was a sassy towheaded blonde girl to when she was crippled and confused and muted by the horrible disease she died from.
And I couldn't stand it. It all hit me.

Fuck it. Fuck it.

Here's what I wrote about scattering Lynn's ashes. 

That was six and a half years ago. My god, my god. I can't believe it.

One of the things the minister said which slightly pissed me off was that only Christians could truly celebrate death and I disagree with that so much because I am not a Christian but I am quite aware that there are times when death is a beautiful and magnificent thing and it is, of course, the way of it and we will all die and I don't need to believe that anyone is with their redeemer or even with anything after they die to know about joyful release. Dottie died at the age of almost-eighty-nine after all of her children and grandchildren got together around her bed and told her they loved her and she told them to "get along."
That was what she needed to be released.
And they gave it to her.

Lynn died after her disease had ravaged every damn bit of her that contributes to life, ravaged and robbed and made cruel fun of what had been a joyful, dancing life. And her going-away party was held here in this house and it was a cold, gray day but still, so many came to celebrate her life because like her mother, she was a gregarious, reaching-out sort of woman. I still have a few serving dishes and spoons from that day, left here by people who had brought food, probably some of those things were Dottie's and now they are just mine and that is that. And her death was as slow and as painful as any death could be and you can't imagine how much I celebrated her final passing. Her suffering was over and there could have been nothing better than that for her.

I am rambling. I have death fatigue. I am worn down with it. I feel the weight of all of it, even as I am able to celebrate the lives of those who have died, to know that all of those people were bright lights on this earth and that new bright lights are born every second to replace them.

It was the most beautiful day and it was a beautiful service in a very old church which was used as a shelter for people who worried about Indian attacks back in the 1800's when Tallahassee was a wild, forested place and where now the homeless can come to get a meal and even, I think, to take a shower, to find a sort of shelter against life-attacks. And maybe tomorrow I'll wake up and be able to just appreciate it all again for what it is that very second.

Which is how it should be.

Good-bye, Dottie. You lived so full and so bright. Good-bye again, Lynn. You lived as full as your mama. I am thinking of you both so tenderly tonight, both of you released and not here any more.
Which is a hard thing for a human to wrap her mind around.

I'll tell you one more thing- when I scatter ashes (and I've done it more than I wish I had) I always lick my fingers when I'm done. In this way, the body of the gone-on becomes a minuscule part of me and thus, they live on in my bones for as long as I shall live. I am not ashamed of that nor am I afraid to admit it. It feels like an honor and in doing so, I make a silent promise to live as fully as I can to honor those who no longer live.

That's all I have to say tonight. I'm very, very tired and it has been another beautiful day here on earth where we are born and where we die and leave behind those who mourn us, no matter how magnificent our life, our death may have been.


  1. I don't see death as a terrible thing. It is the end for every living thing. It is the other side of birth. It is birth. Missing someone who died does not mean death is a terrible thing to be fought. I don't know. Maybe that makes me unfeeling. Both my parents have died. Friends my age have died. Other people in my life have died. But I have never felt that overwhelming sadness from death. Maybe because both my children, my siblings, my spouse are still alive. But I don't think death in and of itself is sad.

  2. Births and deaths and so much life and love and community. Oh Mary. Such a year.

  3. Oh, Ms. Moon. That's beautiful, and sad, and I wish it weren't the way.

  4. It is something to have scattered the ashes of two generations in one family. I've never heard of one literally licking ashes of another in but the beauty of the gesture has made me cry. Life and death and life and death and life. The truth of that rhythm makes my heart feel heavy for so many reasons. I wish you peace. Sweet Jo

  5. This is really a beautiful piece---a word I'd have preferred to say rather than written, so the spelling could be invisible.

  6. I have come to love the sweet release of death. Working in palliative care does that to a person. It is always sad when a person is young but suffering with disease is never OK.

    I have my nana's memoirs and her final wish was "get along".

    It sounds like you need a few more delicious sleeps. xo

  7. It is so interesting to hear you say that about licking the ashes. That seems like such a beautiful and unique gesture. Honestly, and thankfully, I don't yet have enough experience with death to know how each one brings back the others -- but I appreciate your thoughts about all this.

  8. You just keep writing the most beautiful posts, even about the most heartbreaking topics. It is so hard to say goodbye forever to someone you love, but your tribe sure knows how to honor and celebrate a person's life.

    In a college anthropology I learned about the Yanomami tribe in the Amazon, whose death ritual involves a communal feast where some of the cremains are mixed with mashed bananas and eaten to release the soul of the departed. I always interpreted it as a way to keep them here as a part of us too, a way to complete the circle of life and death. I always thought it was a beautiful custom.

    Someday, when I inherit my father's ashes, I will scatter them lovingly and thoughtfully like you did Dottie's, and I will also lick my fingers too.


  9. I love that she had it all planned out and she'd chosen so many songs! There is so much grief in the planning of a funeral sometimes.
    I'm so sorry for your losses.

  10. I have death fatigue too. I know that death comes to us all. But I do grieve those that have gone. I wish that I had known some better such as a cousin who died from AIDS back in 1995. I have regrets that I was too young to understand and thought that I would live on forever in my self-centered world. Now I want to reach out to those who I wish I had known better. And I miss having that experience of just knowing them well.

  11. Ellen Abbott- I agree, mostly. It is not death that is sad, it is the ravaging of disease which is so horrible. And then the missing of the dead. Well, it can be hard. We learn to go on, though, don't we?

    Angella- I swear.

    Betsy- Me too, especially for Lynn. How I wish it had not been that way for her.

    Sweet Jo- I think we fear death so much in this culture. And it's every bit as much a part of it all as the birth and the life. I am trying to learn, as I live, how to die.

    A- Peace to you, my sweet friend.

    Birdie- Sleeping is my favorite thing these days. I don't think it's quite depression, but it is a little bit close.

    Steve Reed- The longer you live, the more experience you will have. This is just the way of it.

    Mel- I've read about that too and I completely understand it. I understand why Keith Richards snorted a bit of his old dad. We have such an urge to keep the dead alive in us as best we can.

    heartinhand- If I knew Dottie, I think that she probably took a lot of pleasure in planning her service. She sort of loved funerals, I believe. Especially if there was an abundance of good food.

    Syd- We don't know until we know. I, too, look back at certain situations involving death and wish I had known more about how to deal with them. We can only learn as we go in some subjects.


Tell me, sweeties. Tell me what you think.