Tag Archives: death

On Poe, Words, and Legacy ~ A story for @RBwood’s Word Count Podcast

The prompt for the latest episode of R.B. Wood’s Word Count Podcast asked that we use the month of September and the picture below in our setting. Richard snapped the photo of a statue of Edgar Allan Poe near Emerson College where he’s in studying for his MFA.

My story inspiration

This may be the first non-fiction entry I’ve written for the podcast. I was struggling to find some way to incorporate Poe into a story. A couple of days before the due date, I found out I would be attending a funeral. Somehow, I knew a story would find me there, and it did. 😉

 

You can also listen to me reading my essay on episode 70 of R.B. Wood’s podcast.

flourish

I attended the funeral of a friend’s mother recently. As this short tale is based on truth, let’s just call her Elsa, which is not her real name. Because Elsa died outside her country of birth, there was no one in attendance from her generation. It’s likely most of her friends would have pre-deceased her anyway. Everyone at the intimate ceremony was friends with her daughter, who like most of us were in our fifties or early sixties.

Earlier that September morning, I read interesting factoids about Edgar Allan Poe to inspire a tale for this podcast. Unlike Elsa who passed away just shy of her ninetieth birthday, Poe died at the young age of forty. To this day, the circumstances of his death remain a mystery. Though intriguing as that is, what struck me was that his enemy, a rival author, wrote Poe’s lengthy obituary, portraying him as a drunken, womanizing opium addict who based his darkest tales on personal experience.

Thankfully, funerals are a rarity for me, but the timing of it did arouse my curiosity. Perhaps it’s Poe’s recurring theme of death in his writing which made me think of the coincidence. Whatever it was, the  thought of the libellous obituary written for him stayed with me as an old priest prepared to speak at Elsa’s funeral. He approached the lectern carrying a piece of paper in one hand and a champagne flute of golden brown liquid in another.

It was not yet one in the afternoon, but the alcohol had been flowing for some time.

The priest reminded me of Harry Dean Stanton, only smaller in stature and with the same tired, deep-set eyes and weather-beaten appearance of the actor’s later years. Stanton was 91 when he died only a few weeks ago. The priest looked 101. Maybe that’s why I felt comfortable with him speaking to us as if we were his children. After all, we were the kids in that room. He spoke eloquently about the importance of mothers and what they gave to their children—the gift of life, praise, and discipline.

He raised his glass and toasted Elsa before taking a long sip. Only a few of us were holding a drink, but we all mimicked raising a glass anyway. From where I sat in the back row, I saw friends look at each other and smile. Like me, they probably didn’t know what to make of this man.

The priest stood confidently addressing our small group and waxed lyrical about friendship. Friends are important, he said, and hopefully, unlike him, we don’t all meet our friends in cheap bars.

He took another sip of his drink.

Wide-eyed, the woman beside me turned to me, “What is he drinking?” she whispered.

I shrugged. My best guess was bourbon. And like her, I found this man’s honesty and self-deprecation strangely admirable.

The priest continued.

“Because I wear this collar, it’s my job to comfort you,” he said. “I’m a man of god, after all, much to the chagrin of the bishop.” Several people let out a boisterous laugh. Like a slow-leaking balloon, the words of the priest deflated the tension in the room. When Elsa’s daughter got up to pay her respects with a moving speech, she revealed how her mother married a much younger man in her father. The short but touching tribute left several of us dabbing away tears after she finished and took her seat.

The priest resumed his position behind the lectern. With the timing of a seasoned comedian, he looked at Elsa’s daughter and said, “You didn’t tell me your mother was a cradle robber!”

A collective gasp filled the room.

The pejorative term was said without an ounce of malice. His words were not delivered in the same vein as the obituary for Poe. They may have shocked us, but there was no ill intent behind them. We laughed even as we cried.

When the service ended, several of us expressed how we wished this priest would live long enough to deliver our eulogies. In his dry-witted, surly manner, he had endeared himself to us, seemingly without even trying.

The words about Poe upon his death damaged his legacy for almost a century until they were proven to be false. This realization, coupled with my recent funeral service gave me a newfound respect for those who must encapsulate a person’s life with merely words.

Words have the power to deceive, to hurt, and to heal. How we choose to use them is a  testament to our own legacies.

flourish

Thank you for reading and/or listening. Feel free to leave a comment or question. Feedback, whether good or bad is always welcome.

~eden

**

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Music Monday cares about ONE MORE LIGHT

I’d like to dedicate this blog to Jimmie, a sweetheart of a man whom I had the pleasure of knowing. His wife and I were close friends, and he became a friend as well. A Scotsman with an easy smile and a constant twinkle in his eyes, he reminded me of my father in many ways. He left a wonderful legacy, and I will miss him.

His son used this Linkin Park song as a tribute to him. The lyrics say so much.

” … If they say
Who cares if one more light goes out?
In the sky of a million stars
It flickers, flickers
Who cares when someone’s time runs out?
If a moment is all we are
Or quicker, quicker
Who cares if one more light goes out?
Well I do …”

Rest in peace, sweet man. xox

~ eden

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Music Monday remembers Chuck Berry

We lost legendary musician, Chuck Berry this past weekend at the age of 90. Berry was apparently working on a new album when he died.

With so many memorable songs, it wasn’t an easy task to choose just one, but who doesn’t know “Johnny B. Goode?” It’s the semi-autobiographical tale of a guitar player down on his luck who ends up with his name in lights.

It’s also powered by the most memorable guitar intro in rock history.

Thank you for the music, Chuck Berry, undisputed father of rock and roll.

May you rest in peace.

eden

 

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Music Mondays remembers Leonard Cohen

leonard cohen 2

I started my Music(al) Mondays segment November 2010, and Leonard Cohen was the second blog in the series. It’s with great sadness that he is no longer with us.

Here’s a wonderful quote from him: (on his writing process).

“Well, I’ve never been intimidated by form … What we call a novel, that is, a book of prose where there are characters and developments and changes and situations, that’s always attracted me, because in a sense it is the heavyweight arena. I like it — it frightens me, from that point of view — because of the regime that is involved in novel-writing. I can’t be on the move, it needs a desk, it needs a room and a typewriter, a regime. And I like that very much.” 

Cohen had an innate love of the English language, and it’s revealed in every interview I’ve ever read of him. He was thoughtful in how he chose his words and phrased his responses. His economy of words was what made him both poetic and interesting.

The inspiration I took from him almost six years ago lives on.

It’s time for me to get writing, but not before I leave you with one of Leonard Cohen’s songs.

“Tower of Song” is both funny and self-depreciating. The song jokes about his voice (“I was born like this / I had no choice / I was born with the gift of a golden voice”). He ranks his songwriting skills “a hundred floors” below those of Hank Williams, and admits to the ravages of time with the line “I ache in the places where I used to play.”

Rest in peace, dear sweet man. May you forever sing to us from your tower of song.

Looking forward to a better week,

eden

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Music Monday and Little Red Corvette ~ #RIP #Prince

Last week was a tough one for the music world — again. We lost another innovative, larger-than-life artist.

Prince has worn many hats over the years, including singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, record producer, and film director.

As a musician, he was impossible to define. Even his passion for the colour purple and adoption of a symbol as his new name could not detract from his music. Whether he played rock, pop, or funk, he was the consummate performer.

There was no other musical artist like Prince.

Along with his own hits, Prince also wrote many songs for other artists. Here are just a few you may know: Fleetwood Mac’s “Stand Back;” Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U;” and the Bangles’ “Manic Monday.”

Purple Rain was not just the soundtrack of Prince’s quasi-biographical film; it formed part of the soundtrack of my young adulthood.

purple rain

I know Prince is fondly remembered by friend and writer, Sue Nador of The Relationship Deal. In 1984, she had her first date with the man who is now her husband. It was to see the film, Purple Rain. Sue requested today’s song “Little Red Corvette,” and I was happy to oblige.

Given all the tributes in just a few days, it’s obvious Prince and his music meant a lot to many people.

Rest in peace, Prince. You will be missed.

~ eden

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Music Monday and Ashes to Ashes ~ #DavidBowie

According to the news, David Bowie has requested his ashes be scattered on the Indonesian island of Bali.

Bali holds a special place in my heart, with some of the most beautiful people I’ve ever met. It’s comforting to know Bowie will rest amongst them.

Enjoy this excellent live performance of “Ashes to Ashes.”

~eden

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Music Monday and Lazarus ~ #DavidBowie

A week after his death, it’s still difficult to fathom a world without David Bowie in it. Saddened by his passing as many of us were, I pored through my David Bowie music blogs, listened to his music, and read numerous articles about his incredible career. His latest album, Blackstar, released only three days before his death, is now at the top of the Billboard 200 Chart. Continue reading

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A Chinese Funeral, Good Luck, and the Powerball

2015 ended sadly with the death of my grandmother, but I’ve processed much of it over the past couple of weeks, and I’m finally beginning to feel lighter. I know this because I can write about my recent trip with some levity.

On New Year’s Day, I traveled to New York City for my grandmother’s funeral. I haven’t been with that much family under one roof in a long time. The last occasion was probably for my grandfather’s funeral, and that was eighteen years ago. My memory of it has faded. I was not as close to my grandfather as I was to my grandmother, so I was probably less interested in the customs then. This time, I paid attention because I knew it would be the last time my family followed this tradition so closely. My grandmother was my last surviving grandparent. All five of her children (my mom is the oldest) planned her funeral together. Along with losing a generation, it’s inevitable many of its customs will also be lost. Even though my beliefs about death are different, I find value in following rituals. It helps ease the pain of loss.

The ceremony consisted of a two-day service and numerous tasks in between. Much of the time at the funeral home involved burning spirit money that resembles legal tender. The money is available in outrageous denominations from 10,000 to 1,000,000 dollars and is used to purchase services or buy things in the afterlife.

heaven notes

Joss paper, thin sheets of coarse bamboo decorated in gold or silver foil is also burned. The assumption is the offerings consumed by fire will reappear as actual items in the spirit world, making them available for departed loved ones. My grandmother enjoyed life, so we didn’t stop burning once the fire started. Mourners who came to pay their respects were encouraged to participate as well.

joss paper

When I wasn’t burning something, I sat in my designated seat in a section with the other grandchildren. We folded stacks and stacks of Joss paper into oblong-shaped ingots in preparation for their burning. Folding the paper is an important part of the burning ceremony as it distinguishes Joss paper from actual money. As the paper is treated with the respect of real money, it cannot be casually tossed in the fire. Instead, it is placed carefully in a loose bundle. I guesstimate I folded more than two thousand sheets over the two days.

folded joss paper

The combination of a freezing room (expected for an open casket viewing), and a raging fire only a few feet from my grandmother’s body seemed absurd at times. I dressed warmly for the day, but when I got cold, I stoked the fire or burned a bag of money to warm up.

The immediate family was also tasked with burning papier-mâché items, representing articles my grandmother might need in the afterlife. This included an elaborate paper folding of a mansion (seen below), SUV, mahjong table, foot massager, and other necessities. When it came time to burn these, each family member chose an item(s) and headed outside the room where my grandmother lay.

We needed a bigger fireplace.

joss paper house

I grabbed the cut-out representations of a male and female butler, along with a pair of slippers. Considering my grandmother did not drive and a car was part of her offering, I thought she would need someone to chauffeur her around, and who couldn’t use a little help putting on their slippers?

The Chinese are strong believers in good fortune and luck. In a traditional Chinese funeral, as was my grandmother’s, all mourners received a white envelope filled with candy and money before they left the funeral home. The candy is to sweeten the bitter taste of death, and the money is for luck. The candy must be eaten immediately, and the money must be spent. My family pooled our money (there was a nickel in each envelope) and bought a lottery ticket called the Powerball.

powerball

If you’re not familiar with the Powerball, it’s a multi-state lottery held in the U.S. Shortly after I arrived in New York, I heard the buzz about the jackpot at 300 million dollars. After a drawing that produced no winner, it jumped to 600 million. As of this writing, the jackpot sits at $1.4 billion (that’s billion with a BIG FAT B) and is likely to surge higher by Wednesday’s drawing. It could become the world’s richest grand prize awarded to one ticket holder.

So here’s the second part of the story … and I must meander a bit, so I hope you stay with me.

I had a 12:05 PM flight to return to Canada from New Jersey’s Newark airport on Sunday. I was staying in Long Island. Normally, my uncle would’ve driven me to the airport, but he had to take my family to the cemetery for another post burial ritual. Given that, I awoke at 6:45 AM to give myself plenty of time to get to the airport since I had to co-ordinate multiple railway systems. Connection times were tight, with only five minutes in between disembarking and boarding.

lirr

Add to this, the weather conditions.

There had been flood warnings the night before, and sure enough, heavy rain and winds hit early Sunday morning. When I stood on the platform of the local railroad, the puddles crested the tops of my boots. I didn’t see much more of the weather after I entered the railway. I squeaked into my connection train at Penn Station seconds before the doors closed and got to the airport in record time! When the agent at the check-in counter offered me an earlier flight of 10:05 AM, I did a fist pump and gladly accepted. I sat in the lounge with a cup of coffee, stoked I had to wait a mere thirty minutes instead of ninety before boarding. How lucky was I?

airline map

 

Not long after though, things went downhill.

An announcement of mechanical failure for the 10:05 flight resulted in its cancellation. The airline had to reschedule a planeload of passengers. I was disappointed but figured I could get on the next flight at 11:05. Worst case, I’d fly back at my original departure time of 12:05, or so I thought. When I went to update my boarding pass, I was informed the 11:05 was full. I was re-booked on a 1:05 PM flight and now on standby for the 12:05.

Shit! I shouldn’t have changed my flight in the first place! 

I’m sure other expletives bounced around in my head, but I stayed calm. When the airline announced the 12:05 flight, I watched the long line-up of passengers dwindle as they boarded the plane. I stayed close to the gate but was not hopeful there would be a seat left for me. A frustrated passenger started yelling at the ticket agent for giving away a seat she thought belonged to her. All the screaming did nothing to improve the situation. As I was about to walk away, an airport employee approached the counter and handed a boarding pass to the clerk. I overheard her say, “This is for the final passenger on this flight.”

Then the agent called my name. I felt like I had won the lottery!

It was only supposed to be an hour flight, but the weather continued to worsen as we flew. When we approached Western New York, the captain informed us the visibility in Toronto was so bad he was unable to land. He circled the plane, waiting for weather conditions to improve. After more than thirty minutes of an aerial view of Buffalo, the pilot announced the fog had lifted enough for him to try and land.

Try?

I must say his words did not instill confidence in me. The woman beside me had already been white-knuckling it the entire journey. Even as a normally good flyer, the constant turbulence unsettled me. Clouds had obstructed the view outside the window for most of the flight, so there were no visual cues to make me feel better. I tightened my seat belt and closed my eyes.

airplane seat belt

Suddenly, I wasn’t feeling so lucky anymore.

When the plane pitched forward and sped up, I knew we were closing in on the airport. I opened my eyes just as the plane penetrated the fog and saw the runway appear too quickly for my liking. I braced myself for a rough landing.

As the 70-person propeller plane came to a halt, a round of applause and cheers broke the tension. It’s a short runway, and the pilot did an excellent job. The proof is I’m here to write about it.

The caveat to this airplane story is the earlier flight at 11:05 was diverted back to New Jersey due to weather. If I had made it on that plane, I would not have landed in Toronto until much later.

After a long day, which fortunately ended well, I couldn’t help but think my grandmother had been looking out for me. It’s metaphorical, of course, but I felt extremely lucky, so much so that that when I arrived home safely, I called my aunt and uncle in New York and gave them numbers to play the Powerball. I’m not lucky with lotteries and I rarely play them, but there’s no way my grandma would have missed the opportunity to buy a ticket. Since she’s no longer here, I’m buying one for her.

If I win, there’s going to be one hell of a fire in her honour. 

grandma at her birthday

 

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Music Monday and The Next Day ~ #RIP #DavidBowie

Today the world lost an original. Amongst other things, David Bowie was a musical pioneer, style icon, and performer.

He has inspired many of my blogs, including a story I wrote two years ago called “The Final Countown.” It’s a grim and comical tale about a dying man who leaves the world on his own terms. I think Bowie would’ve liked it. Continue reading

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Music Monday is Unforgettable

On New Year’s Day, I flew into Newark and was relieved to see an empty Customs area. I quickly navigated the rows of line dividers, absent-mindedly glancing a television set posted along one of the posts.

My heart sank. Continue reading

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Living through the holidays with death and social media

I lost my grandmother over the holidays. She passed away Christmas Eve.

My grandmother lived in Manhattan in a small apartment in the Lower East Side. This past summer, she came to Canada as she often did, a long drive across the border for a 94-year-old woman. My uncle and aunts drove with her to visit my mom in Montreal first, then they came to Toronto to see me and the rest of the family. That was July. I didn’t know it then, but it would be the last time I saw Grandma alive.

I agonized over writing this post. The holidays are supposed to be a good time—a union of family and friends. Fun and happy moments, with nothing worse than a bit of melancholy for another year passed, but what do you do when someone dies at this time? Holidays are not supposed to include death … but death is never convenient. You have to deal with it when it happens.

My grandmother’s death came suddenly. Even at 94, it was unexpected. I thought she could live forever. She had that aura of invincibility. Here she was at her 89th birthday party laughing with my mom.

grandma and mom

As an author who creates fictional stories, I debated whether I should write a post about my grandmother’s passing.

And how could I do it without sounding maudlin? Especially at this time of year.

You see, each December since starting this blog, I’ve written a holiday message to end the year. The messages have been about reflection, happiness, and looking ahead. I’ve often included humor as part of the festive season. I wanted this post to be something along the same lines, but I couldn’t drum up the enthusiasm to write it that way.

I just couldn’t.

I had to reflect on the life of a woman who meant a great deal to me, and it would be dishonest to write a holiday message without acknowledging the loss. Another year is coming to an end, but an important life has already ended. My grandmother deserved her time with me here.

grandma and me

With Grandma in Toronto 2013

Those who know me well understand I’m a private person. I rarely make announcements about my personal life. I share private matters one-on-one using more traditional means—telephone and email. My declarations via public forums such as Twitter and Facebook are mainly for my writing news. As much as I like social media, I consider it somewhat of a mirage.

Are people always as happy as they appear in their pictures?

The answer is obviously “no.”

With this post, my main purpose is to honor my grandmother, to let people know how lovely she was. What she lacked in physical stature, she made up for in toughness of mind and spirit. She was fiercely independent and got her way without ever raising her voice. Her quiet strength spoke to the many qualities I admired about her, particularly her thoughtfulness and grace. She made the world a better place, and she was a cool woman in every sense of the word.

I also want to thank everyone for their outpouring of support and comforting words of condolences. I’m extremely grateful for the kindness of friends, both virtual and in real life. Though I feel a sad void right now, I know how fortunate I am to have had my grandmother in my life for so long. Many of my friends no longer have parents, let alone grandparents. The reality is Grandma influenced me well into adulthood, and I will forever cherish the precious years I had with her. Her legacy lives on in the small things, which added up to her huge appetite for life.

As she was my last surviving grandparent, her passing brings me closer to my own mortality, but I am not afraid.

I never saw Grandma afraid of anything.

* * *

Some final words for the readers of this blog …

I so appreciate the personal notes, comments, follows, shares, likes, emails, and messages you’ve sent over the years. With your kindness, you’ve given me the best gift for the holidays during a difficult time.

Thank you.

As I close my blog for another year, I am grateful that social media has connected us. We are here together, and that is something worth celebrating.

Wishing love, health, and happiness for you and your families. May 2016 be unforgettable in the best of ways,

~ eden ♥

 

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