I’m often surprised, when I look back, how I got some of the places I did and where they led. An attitude toward death would not have been anticipated when I arose this morning. I dance with the idea, myself. I think most of us do. Nonetheless, I’m at least a little surprised to be writing, and eagerly so, about an attitude toward death.
What happened, and it’s so unusual, I’m still not sure what my intent was, at the time; I started up the computer and went to Facebook. While there I first ran into Fiona Apple. I had never heard of her before although upon asking my son, he most assuredly had, and “yes, mom” he liked her music, thought she looked good and to top it off, also thought she was effing smart. Pretty high praise for a woman too old for his taste (he’s about three years older)! (Yes, we can all ugh together.)
I told him why I had become aware of her. He has a pit bull – likely Dalmatian mix. His comment was, “do you have to cry about every effing thing?” Although, trust me, if the dogs were switched, his tears would be mixed in, too.
Back to this attitude toward death, though. My Facebook friend who had posted about Fiona Apple had posted a couple paragraphs from a letter Fiona had written (turns out — handwritten four pages) to “friends she hadn’t met yet” explaining cancelling a tour because her dog was dying. It was so beautiful an expression of her attitude toward death I just had to find out more.
I ended up having to go over to my Facebook friend’s own Facebook page to thank her — undoubtedly my ineptitude in some way.
These are just a miniscule few of the reasons I’m writing about her attitude toward death today:
“I am not the woman who puts her career ahead of love and friendship.”
“She’s my best friend and my mother and my daughter, and my benefactor, and she’s the one who taught me what love is.”
“I can’t leave her now, please understand. If I go away I’m afraid she’ll die and I won’t have the honor of singing her to sleep, of escorting her out.”
All those preceding simply let you know about the relationship between the two. What follows are what I meant to share as an attitude toward death I can rally with.
“I know that I will feel the most overwhelming knowledge of her, and of her life, and of my love for her, in the last moments. I need to do my damnedest to be there for that. Because it will be the most beautiful, the most intense, the most enriching experience of life I’ve ever known. When she dies. So I am staying home, and I am listening to her snore and wheeze, and reveling in the swampiest, most awful breath that ever emanated from an angel. And I am asking for your blessing.”
It was the “I am asking for your blessing” that snagged me this morning. It’s such voicing by others in this world that lets me know that however diverse we may appear to be there are common and comfortable threads that bind us together. It is reading such beautiful sharing by others that leave me feeling safe and wanting to share what I will share of my personal attitude toward death.
There remain yet before I do some breathtakingly wise and meaningful words of Fiona’s I wish to pass on from her four pages. I encourage you to visit one of the many sites where you will find more of those words than I have selected out here.
“I know that she’s not sad about aging or dying. Animals . . . are so much more present than people.
. . . Many of us these days dread the death of a loved one. It is the ugly truth of Life, that keeps us feeling terrified and alone. I wish we could also appreciate the time that lies right beside the end of time. I know that I will feel the most overwhelming knowledge of her, and of her life and of my love for her, in the last moments.
I need to do my damnedest to be there for that.
Because it will be the most beautiful, the most intense, the most enriching experience of life I’ve ever known.
When she dies.”
I have not begun to do justice to Fiona’s words. I told my son she not only can sing and play instruments and I’m guessing write her music but she has immense talent as a writer. I felt transformed reading what she had written. I, who had never known she existed before this morning. Such is the power of words.
My own attitude toward death was primarily fashioned, or at least firstly so, by my grandmothers. My maternal grandmother passed away in my ninth year. I had not been apprised of her cancer (rather a new word on anyone’s front in the 1950’s) and the shock of learning I would not be seeing her again brought on what felt to be a lengthy (it seemed to me like hours) period of weeping. That was new to me and distressing in its own right.
The story I am most anxious to tell comes with my paternal grandmother. Being older, I was a bit more able to assimilate the experience. She passed away my last year at University. It was rather sudden and unexpected and I was unable to get home. When I did finally, for a holiday break, I think, I received a quilt she’d made me; a wonderful thoughtful gift I would always be able to take through life and be able to think of her.
My attitude toward death at that time was somewhat standard — she’s in a better place, she’s happier and safe, she still loves me, that kind of thing.
As time went on I noticed on occasion that I would have a thought about her and it seemed she was near.
And then one day, actually about twenty years had gone by and my life had upset fruit basketed with a divorce and its accompaniments with teen-age children, and something amazing happened.
I was troubled (boobing big time, if I remember) and I knelt down to pray and the quilt was at the end of my bed. As I leaned closer to the bed, I could smell my grandma’s house. A twenty plus year old quilt that had moved with me umpteen times, been everywhere it seemed and I had never ever experienced that before.
Memories flooded in and I mentally reviewed each wall and piece of furniture in the house. I noticed my father’s Navy picture on one bedroom wall, I checked the closets, tried to avoid much notice of the sink where I’d stood doing dishes with my legs itching because the hot water affected me that way, opened dresser drawers and even started down the steps into the cellar my father had dug on his own. The walls were still dirt and smelled that tangy musty mix they do.
I was stunned.
Connections don’t sever with death. At least, they don’t have to. Like so much in life, an attitude — an attitude toward death, can make a difference. A key difference.
- Fiona Apple Cancels South American Tour to Be With Her Dying Dog (rollingstone.com)