On Death and Mourning

Death comes to your home like an unannounced guest and always stays long after you’re ready for it to go.

I came up with this idea many years ago. Perhaps its even a quote from somebody else. I don’t know, but it captures the feeling I have in dealing with loss and mourning.

In my head, death is always personified as a she, not an it. This is not, at least I hope, some latent misogyny, rather a reflection of how much Santa Muerte has infected my mind and my writing. I think we need a patron saint for death. Like love, death is a valuable thing to our culture and society. It changes things in ways that is difficult to understand up until you go through it. Its a bit like sex in that regard. There are some things in which words do not do justice to the experience.

One thing I can say for sure, as a man I didn’t fully understand manhood up until the point we buried my father and my father-in-law. After they died, every major decision I’ve made feels like performing a dangerous routine without a safety net. I have this sense of, “Oh shit. I could really fuck this up, and I don’t have anyone to call for backup.” It is both terrifying, and in some weird way, freeing. ¬†I wouldn’t wish this on anyone, but at the same time I know deep in my bones that it is necessary. As necessary as breathing.

The Value of an English Major

A friend of mine on face book posted this opinion piece from the NY Times Sunday Review on the loss of the English major in education. Below is my response.

I guess I’m more pragmatic about the topic. I’ve always thought writing well, and reading well, should carry its own reward, and I believe it does, regardless of ones avocation. If this is true, then I’m pretty sure we’ll start to see previous business majors sheepishly come back to school willing to do the hard work of learning to write, even if it is based on the desire to give themselves a leg up on the competition.

There is a corollary to this point, which is also important; that is if writing well and reading well are not a virtue, then they should go the way of the buggy whip. I also believe this to be true. Seriously, if you can write like a pro, and still cannot explain the value of writing to our culture at large, either you’ve over estimated your wiring skills or its value.

As I alluded to above, I think the “real” reason we’re seeing a drop in English majors is because learning to write is hard work. Most people would rather take an easier path, and they will up until they discover that easy and fast doesn’t always equate with best. Some day these skimmers of “internet facts” these believers in a Cliffs Notes education will come across an enemy who has taken the time to read “The Prince”, or pretty much anything of Shakespeare, and will happily eviscerate¬†those poor souls (with words alone, one hopes) who thought skimming a good replacement for deep thought. Yes, the pen is mightier than the sword, bitch, and I keep mine sharp.

I’ve always thought the proper reason for an English degree–although I guess it applies to the whole of the humanities–was for someone who still did not know what they wanted to be when they grow up. This is not intended to be a slight, even today at the tender age of 50 I am not sure of what I want to be when I grow up. There is a genuine need for people to learn in university the skills they will use to discover themselves and the world.

Doctor for Death

I had a dream last night in which I was a doctor and was hired as a specialist to help people smoothly transition towards their death. Sort of a death therapist with a heavy background in medicine and the effects of various medications on a dyeing person.

Obviously this is not what I do in real life, but it was a fascinating idea all the same.

There must be a point in which the complexity of medical care, especially for the elderly, becomes too difficult for the patient to comprehend. Heck, we’re already at this point, so much so that the standard rule for our family is to not let anyone be in the hospital without another adult in the room Add in other complications associated with end of life issues, and the complex becomes chaotic. Now add in the various emotional responses of all the family members, and the financial implications if a large estate is involved, and you get a rich heady stew. Rich enough to last several television seasons worth of solutions, for instance.