Day 230 of 366: Blog Challenge 2012

Hello all

This morning I realised that the subject of death keeps popping up. This was confirmed when I opened my emails and the Poem-a-Day I received today commenced with the ominous line: ‘prolonged exposure to death …’

What’s going on here I thought? This is a subject that is begging to be written! Okay folks, let’s see where it takes us …

You see, I had my friend Julienne visit yesterday and she showed me her beautiful photo album she made online, of her latest travels overseas. One photo was taken in an old English Cemetery and Julienne commented on badgers in cemeteries and how she has changed her mind about wanting to be buried and not cremated. How so?

Dorchester: tunnels under grave sites caused by badgers; this mother has her daughter buried there.

It appears that in England, the badgers dig up people who have been buried – some for over 150 years – and as she and her friends walked through the cemetery, a skull was lying nearby which the pastor just kicked out-of-the-way, blaming the problem on the badgers.

I was horrified! Julienne assured me that there are no badgers in Australia so perhaps we are safe here? We did laugh about it but I have to say it has got me thinking. No wonder Geoff wants to be cremated and not buried! Only his problem is about waking up under ground after they have buried him by mistake and finding himself hemmed in (yes really). Whereas I don’t like the thought of being burned up. We have an impasse.

We are a funny lot aren’t we? But as Julienne and I agreed we are all mortal and as Julienne put it so well “none of us are going to get out of this life alive ..”  Therefore folks, we may as well get used to the idea that eventually, all of us are going to leave this mortal coil for another world.

Now this is fine for us older folk to be thinking about, but surely not our granddaughter Alice who was concerned last night about HER mortality. And she is only 10 years old.

You see as I said good night to Alice last night saying: “See you in the morning,” she said “But Grandma, just say if I die during the night? You won’t see me in the morning then, will you?”  I was taken aback and wondered what had prompted this morbid introspection.

I had been discussing my parents sudden death on Wednesday with her and wondered if that had anything to do with her concerns now.  I thought it best to tell her in an authoritative voice: “Alice sweetie, you will not be dying tonight!”  My thinking was that I would inspire confidence by a proclamation … if she was really worried.

Still, she asked again. This time I said simply: “No Alice, little girls are not in the habit of dying overnight so you are safe okay? Old people may die suddenly but not little girls.” With this response she seemed assured and said in a subdued voice: “Okay Grandma … goodnight then.”

I paused wondering if I had spent enough time with her and also wondering about the whole affair. I suppose even children want reassurance about things such as dying, from those of us who can give it.

But then again, don’t we all want reassurance sometimes about our mortality? Isn’t that why we go to Doctors when we are ill or ask questions such as “will I recover?” if the illness is serious. I know myself that I don’t like the thought of dying suddenly. I want to be surrounded by my family and quietly pass over to the other side. Oh, I do have my fantasies!

And I don’t want any badger-type creatures digging me up either!!

Seriously though, I have no answers folks, but I do know that none of us is left untouched by death. And just at this point, my email brings me a poem which is both sombre … and delightful! All in one go. I will show you the poem and then share my thoughts afterwards:

by Tony Hoagland

Prolonged exposure to death
Has made my friend quieter.

Now his nose is less like a hatchet
And more like a snuffler.

Flames don’t erupt from his mouth anymore
And life doesn’t crack his thermometer.

Instead of overthrowing the government
He reads fly-fishing catalogues

And takes photographs of water.
An aphorist would say

The horns of the steer have grown straighter.
He has an older heart

that beats younger.
His Attila the Hun imitation

Is not as good as it used to be.
Everything else is better.

The poem reminds me that with prolonged exposure to death, we are changed forever. And I think of myself and my own writings this last week about the loss of my parents and I realise that yes, I too have been changed forever by the experience of these and other losses that I have had over the years.

Perhaps my own Attila the Hun imitation is not as good as it used to be? Perhaps, there is no longer any need for it because yes, everything else IS better now.

I know I was able to navigate my way through losing those who were dear to me and after that, everything else seems so much easier. What do YOU think?

Tony Hoagland’s poems poke and provoke at the same time as they entertain and delight. He is American poetry’s hilarious and disturbing “high priest of irony”, a wisecracker and a risktaker whose disarming humour, self-scathing and tenderness are all fuelled by an aggressive moral intelligence.