Boxwood statuette of Death holding an egg-timer.
German, 18th century; from the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Boxwood statuette of Death holding an egg-timer.
German, 18th century; from the Victoria and Albert Museum.
In memory of my mother (August 27, 1927 - January 5, 2014), pictured above, a Germantown girl with a cat on her lap.
The point the phone tree starts. When P tells me you have pneumonia. When I call K and go back to my puzzle. The point in a puzzle when it’s about choices. The point P calls to say they think you had a heart attack. When the doctors say they’ll run some tests. The point in a puzzle when it’s about color. The point MJ calls and says you asked after me. She says you asked if the door was locked. She says you asked for your keys. The point in a puzzle when it’s about shades. The point MJ calls and asks me to talk into the phone. When I say can you hear me and I hear something like breathing and I hear something like drowning. The point in the puzzle when it’s about trying the options one by one. The point MJ calls and says she wants everyone to tell you that they are ok. She wants you to know that everyone is OK. She says when everyone is ok you can shut your eyes. The point A calls and says you’re passing. When you’re passing and I’m talking into the phone and saying I’m sorry you’re sick and I love you. The point I don’t hear you. The point I don’t hear anything like breathing. The point I don’t hear anything like drowning. The point we hang up and call back or stay on the phone I can’t remember I was pacing and then sitting and then mouthing the word what and then saying the word wow. The point I walk into our bedroom and tell N you’re dead and she says oh Susie. The point I text the words night mom to myself as shorthand for the night mom died. The point I don’t want to forget. The point I text we just saw her at xmas, we just saw her wolfing down whipped cream. The point T calls and tells me we have each other. The point I want to tell everyone I know what has happened. The point I text A my mother is dead, I can’t speak. The point I lie awake until I fall asleep and then our dog wakes me up and I remember. The point I need to make phone calls. The point I can’t reach my cousins and have to send messages over Facebook and think how crass, our modern age. The point A listens to me cry. The point R does the same.
The point your children go over what happened. When the fluid built up but you seemed more verbal. When they took you upstairs to make you comfortable. When they rolled you over and you seized. When you aspirated. When you had a cardiac event. When you were in distress. When everyone kept saying you’re DNR. When the doctors said get the morphine. When the nurses said get your family. The point I want to write everything down. The point I sink into the floor and write nothing. The point my voice breaks when talking to Delta customer service. The point I’m canceling a trip I don’t want to cancel and asking about refunds. The point your children go over what’s going to happen. When we talk about underwear. When we talk about pumps. When K says they sell caskets at Costco. When A says a pine box doesn’t look as bad as you think. The point I want everyone I know to know of this grief and don’t know who to let know of this grief or how. The point when it feels like the funeral can’t come soon enough. The point MJ wants you to have a rosary made out of roses. The point your children go over what’s going to happen. The embalming the dressing the cosmetology. The opening of the grave the liner. The memorial package the obituary the spray. The prayer cards the certified copies. The cantor the what-to-do-if-it-rains. The point I start drinking. The point I post pictures on Facebook. When I want everyone on Facebook to like everything I am posting on Facebook. The point I get mad at everyone on Facebook who isn’t liking everything I am posting on Facebook.
The point I go to work and feel sick. The point I shut my office door. The point I open it. The point I shut it. The point I open it again.The point co-workers start dropping by. The point co-workers start telling me about their mothers and their uncles and their fathers. The point co-workers start looking uncomfortable so I hug them and this makes them feel better. The point I think this is a burden and a power. The point your funeral feels too soon. The point I’m standing at the back of a long line to board a train and a door opens behind me and I’m the first to board. The point I think maybe you’re watching. The point I ask others if they think you could really be watching. The point I really hope you aren’t really watching. The point I start drinking again. The point I’m gasping for air looking at pictures of you in your twenties smiling at babies. Ponytailed and crinolined and more beautiful than I have ever seen you. The point I don’t want to go to your funeral. The point MJ tells me to stand at the end of a line. The point I walk away from the line and A brings me back. When I shake hands and say thank you to the people lining up to walk down a line. The point I worry my composure may worry the people lining up to shake my hand at the end of a line. The point I see someone who is not you lying in a casket. The point I want to touch this body that is not yours but feel afraid so back away. The point I step forward again. The point my lips are shaking on your forehead. On your forehead as hard as stone and colder. The point I walk up an aisle behind your casket. The point I sit down and hear a story about blood. The point I sit down and hear a story about eating flesh. The point the story of your life gets told through the death of others. Through your husband and your mother and your god. The point I walk down an aisle and gasp. The point I smile at your grandchildren ringing church bells. The point I am handed a rose and lean into your casket and worry about falling in a grave. The point I look into the grave to see if I can see Dad. The point MJ tells me she did the same. The point everyone goes to a restaurant and the kids drink half-and-half. The point everyone says you’re with others and how comforted everyone seemed to be by this thought. The point K says you told her to make music sound easy. The point the day is finally over. The point N and I watch Seinfeld. The point I fall asleep and wake up and say there are no words. The point I fall asleep and dream about a maze. A maze where people disappear around corners. A maze where I have to retrace my steps or else get lost.
The point I am happy with N getting coffee in the market. The point N says it would have been easy for you to have been bitter. The point I decide to look at the eagle. The brass eagle with brass feathers in what used to be Wanamakers. The eagle where people meet up after going their separate ways. The point I think whatever’s good in me comes from you. The point I meet up with C and A and we talk about the others who are dead. The point A says Dad’s last words were tell my wife. The point we eat your favorite ice cream and take selfies. The point I stare out the window and think about The Giving Tree and how much I hate The Giving Tree. The point I get on a subway and say to myself, my mother is dead, I’m getting a seat. The point MJ tells me about the night your cat had kittens. The night you sat on the cellar steps and fed the runt milk from a spoon. The night the runt died. The point A says her daughter thinks pets can talk in heaven so when we get there we’ll get to hear what they were thinking. The point P says you managed eight children by focusing on who needed you most. The point I say your life was like triage.
The point everything feels radically simple.The point I don’t want to talk to anyone because I feel ok and think feeling ok will unnerve people so I better wait a few days to talk to people because I think feeling ok a few days from now would look better. The point time passes differently. The point I tell N that part of grieving is helping others’ respond to my grief and N says that when others lose sight of my grief all I’ll be left with is grieving. The point it’s a week later and I want to repeat the actions of that day so I start a new puzzle. The point I am sorting the pieces and looking for metaphors and my mind goes blank and I don’t finish.
None can narrate that strife in the pines,
A seal is on it — Sabaean lore!
Obscure as the wood, the entangled rhyme
But hints at the maze of war —
Vivid glimpses or livid through peopled gloom,
And fires which creep and char —
A riddle of death, of which the slain
Sole solvers are.
Lydia Dwight Dead; made by John Dwight’s Fulham Pottery; England; 1674. Source: V&A Museum.
One of the earliest experiments in European ceramic sculpture, this object was commissioned by the father of the dead child in order to capture her likeness and perpetuate her memory. It was a personal and private sculpture, reflecting the grief of the little girl’s family, and perhaps not intended for open display in the house. […]
Lydia Dwight was six years old when she died on 3 March 1674 (1673 by the Old Calendar). The fact that the next daughter was also christened Lydia does not suggest lack of grief on the part of the parents, but was usual practice in an age noted for its high infant mortality.
I am dying to know: Are those bones embedded in the waxworks?
Images: Relics (?) of Saint Vittoria, or Victoria in the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome, by Morbid Anatomy.
Weegee, Human Head Cake Box Murder, c. 1940
From the Metropolitan Museum of Art:
It is hard to decide which of the several mysteries contained in this macabre photograph is the most bizarre: the murder to which the title alludes, the headless bodies standing flat-footedly around a bodyless head, the “scriptboy” who enters at upper left, how the police photographer can be both rooted to the spot and levitating above it, why he wears his hat as he works, or where Weegee is standing.
Weegee, Their First Murder, October 9, 1941
From the Getty Museum:
“A woman relative cried…but neighborhood dead-end kids enjoyed the show when a small-time racketeer was shot and killed,” wrote Weegee in the caption accompanying this startling photograph in his 1945 publication Naked City. On the facing page Weegee showed the bloody body lying in the street.
Alternately laughing, staring in disbelief, or looking into the camera to grasp their own momentary chance to be recorded, the children who had witnessed this grisly scene form an unsettling amalgam of human emotion and self-absorption. Two women are among the group: one, whom Weegee mentioned above, stands at the center, her face contorted with anguished tears, her personal loss turned into public spectacle.
Funeral scene with mourners
Jan Van Boendale (c.1280-1351)
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