Saturday, January 31, 2009

death and the duchess (that's me)

sometimes I lie in bed waiting for sleep to come and the bastard gets held up a few houses down the block. probably some snot nosed kid with a fear of the dark, holding my guy up and keeping me tossing and turning like a pig on a spit. not a very pleasant image, nor a very pleasant experience, thankyouverymuch.

anyway, tonight is a night like many others: the kid is getting all the undivided attention and I'm stuck on the spit. so i says to myself that now would be the perfect time to ruminate on some fun stuff..not. because said "fun stuff" is anything but.

death is always lurking somewhere in my brain, ready to engage me in a little game of chess...a game that I already know the outcome to. i am not ingmar bergman patiently doling out the story while I draw out the encounter. i have absolutely no control in the matter. i can't block death out of my brain. i am its willing captive as i mull over the thought that one day everyone and everything I know will one day cease to exist. there will not be a soul or rock or stream left that knew i was here, fighting the good fight. there's lots of life passing before my eyes, but they are not my life images. no, they belong to everyone i love. i see their death played out like a revue on the back of my eyelids and it scares the shit outta me.

so i get up and write this post to clear my brain.

this makes me remember the first time i realized that everyone (myself) included was going to die.

I went to a private elementary school. must've been second grade. at oldest, third. i was in music class. xylophones everywhere. we were singing a song and damned if i remember what it was. the "ants went marching" keeps sticking in my craw, so maybe that was it. i remember looking around the room, at the teacher and the other kids and realizing, my heart in my throat, that they were all dead...well, they were all doomed to die. then that sent me into apoplexies of terror...if they were gonna die then my parents were gonna die, too. and then the clincher, the thing that just nailed me to my spot on the linoleum:

i was gonna die, too.

i found myself removed from the world around me, sucked into another dimension where i was the omnipotent observer, i was the one with the secret. i was apart. I was a part. of it all.

I went through the rest of the day like a zombie, lost in this weird dimension, separated from everyone and everything i loved.

I had a piano lesson that afternoon after school and my friends Maudie and Jessica came with me somehow. they and their family were staying with us, something to do with a crazy sewage leak at their house (they moved from that house with the wooded backyard and the stream way down in the back where i once got bitten by a baby mole that died). I got through the lesson then went to the bathroom.

and lost it.

locked myself in the institutional metal stall somewhere in the heart of Samford University and couldn't stop the dry heaves and sobs that I had held inside me since that damned music class. (god, the xylophones) my friends found me and somehow coaxed me out to the car where my mother was waiting.

i don't remember if i told anyone what was wrong. i honestly don't remember.

but my nights have not been the same since


  1. Then Almitra spoke, saying, "We would ask now of Death."

    And he said:

    You would know the secret of death.

    But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life?

    The owl whose night-bound eyes are blind unto the day cannot unveil the mystery of light.

    If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life.

    For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.

    In the depth of your hopes and desires lies your silent knowledge of the beyond;

    And like seeds dreaming beneath the snow your heart dreams of spring.

    Trust the dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity.

    Your fear of death is but the trembling of the shepherd when he stands before the king whose hand is to be laid upon him in honor.

    Is the sheered not joyful beneath his trembling, that he shall wear the mark of the king?

    Yet is he not more mindful of his trembling?

    For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?

    And what is to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?

    Only when you drink form the river of silence shall you indeed sing.

    And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.

    And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.

  2. Check out the song "Do You Realize??" by The Flaming Lips on their record "Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots". I think you may enjoy it, as it deals with the same sentiment.

  3. I used to lie awake in bed and imagine myself saving the people I know from death. It was a strange and depressing time. Since then I've realised it's unhealthy to live life with the most frightened awareness that death is unpredictable and unavoidable. It drains you. Yada yada, all I can say is it was a troublesome process filled with a deep sense of injustice.

    Anyway, you should go out and buy The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, and read it. You don't have to be one of the spiritual kind to be enlightened.

  4. Or just turn your music on full blast (poss with headphones for the neighbours) and jump around like crazy for half an hour. You'll be asleep in no time.

  5. Here's hoping sleep will find you tonight, duchess :)


    -- Death appeals to Azrael (Terry Pratchett, Reaper Man)

    Death just is. Denying, fighting, screaming, crying, cutting, spitting, lying won't stop it and certainly won't make the transition from here to gone any any more painless.
    Death just is.

  7. I discovered Death whe I was 5, when my grandma said out of the blue "this baby on the pcture is your oder brother, he died before you wee born". Then I understood the always underlying sadness in my mother's eyes.
    But being 5, I didn't understand it all. Just that Death meant the peoplewould not be there anymore, and that we would be left all sad.
    Way latr,I had peple sick in my family, and suffering, when their eath came t was relief for they weren't in pain anymore.
    But my little brain can't help and imagine. Imagine my mother's death, my godfather's death... People I love. People I don't know too. But most of all mine.
    When all of this happens, I fid my self suffering of insomnia as you did tonight.
    I really hope that "Nounours" (from an old Frnch TV Show called "Bonne Nuit Les Petits" (goodnight kiddos))came by an throw some sleeping sand your way. Say, did you develop a xylophone phobia? =)
    I send you lots of sleepy vibes.
    Julia and her wonky keyboard.

  8. One thing I've learned as a witch is that we all travel on the spiral of life. Notice I said LIFE not death. As the laws of physics state, matter is neither created nor destroyed, it just changes forms. I think the first response to your post was an extremely beautiful way of saying that.

    Your friend in the night,
    Mama Gaea

  9. I didn't have quite that experience but I do realize exactly what you mean by the emotion, and without hesitation or doubt and with complete sureness I can say I know exactly what you feel. I realized it when as a child I had to face my best friend dying before my eyes. The same girl who would have taken a life for me, had hers taken in spite of my child-like efforts to convince her to stay.

    I hope it provides at least a small measure of comfort to know there is someone out there who shares the pain.

    As a result, I am no longer afraid of death because of what I have seen.

  10. Now this is what you call overblogging:

    Death died this morning. I’m not exactly sure why it happened; it happened so quickly, but staring into the empty hole in the ground with his black robes folded up neatly inside, there was no denying it. Somewhere along the way he lost the battle and surrendered to the one-track crusaders waving their bold banners heralding “life, life, life!” up to the heavens.

    We all had our theories about how it happened. I thought it might have had something to do with the changing times, but Grandma insisted that he went down with religion. Uncle Albert, who had lived through the war, and watched his buddies be killed first hand as he took cover in a freezing foxhole of mud, was convinced that it was those ‘damn commie bastards’ who had killed him.

    We treated death like the taxman, whenever he paid us a visit; a cup of warm lemon tea in the parlour room, artificial smiles, and a let him take whatever he likes so maybe he’ll leave sooner frame of mind. We always managed to get through it somehow.

    Over the years, death became a well-worn presence in our house. Out of the deaths I remember, I lost three gold fish, my childhood dog, Aunt Biddy, and worst of all one night, after struggling for years of sickness, my mother succumbed to death at last.

    The night mom died was death’s longest visit ever. We all waited with apprehension to see what would happen, but Grandma who always the tough one, took up the initiative. Without a sound, she drew the papers across the table towards her and signed the necessary paperwork for death to take her daughter away. I never even saw her cry – the deep cut lines in her cheeks stayed as dry as our riverbeds did last summer when there had been a 4-month drought.

    I watched all of this from a distance, hanging out of the wooden stairway rails like they were my own personal prison, and making faces at death when I was sure he wasn’t looking. Somehow though, I got the feeling he still saw me, even with his back turned away from me.

    One morning, after I found death had come in the night to make another one of my gold fish float upside-down in its green scum fish bowl, my anger towards death reached its peak.

    I announced my indignation to about it to my Grandmother, who I was sure, would agree with me, having lost so many family members over the years. But surprisingly she looked up from her book, and sighing, steered me over to the laundry room to explain, as though the many soft folds and layers of fabric and pants would soften the impact of what I was about to hear.

    “If anybody ever tells you that death should be done in,” she said, “You just ignore them, and don’t pay them any attention. Death is a necessary burden. And anyone who thinks otherwise is a screwball.”

    But the screwballs came to us that summer one day in mid-July, lined up on our front porch in robes of white.

    “Would you like to join our petition,” the people of the neighbourhood asked importantly, “Against death?”

    They persisted diligently, even after Grandma gave them a polite “no” on our behalf (I was half-thinking about running off and joining them, personally) until finally she lost her temper and ran them off like we did the stray dogs in our yard that would sometimes come sniffing around begging for scraps.

    “You will regret this,” one of them said as they left, and we would soon find out the full fury of their words.

    At the store, Grandma was banned from buying anything after someone accused her bald-faced of stealing tomatoes, so that for a few months, we had to go to the grocer that was four blocks farther from our house. At school everyone did their best to make my life miserable, including the teachers. The kids at recess would call me names like “death lover” and “dead boy,” but I stood up to them as well as any dirt-faced boy should be proud of, not letting anyone see me cry. Insults were thrown as heavy artillery across the battle line, but there were no bricks through our windows (thank god,) as the movement against death mounted.

    After a year of two of this had passed, we got our worst shock ever one morning as Grandma went to put out the cat and got a bitter surprise instead. Her scream shattered the crystal off the morning grass, and I came running just as fast as I could when I heard it, abandoning the last soggy bits of my Lucky Charms breakfast at the bottom of my bowl. Well it didn’t take long for me to figure out what she was screaming about, but it took me longer to figure out what it meant.

    Up in the high realms of the proud Oak in our back yard hung death, still except for the stray breeze fluttering his robes every now and then. I wasn’t a racist, but there was something reminiscent of the old south in the way that death hung from our tree like a misshapen fruit, hemp-stem bunching the robes around the base of his neck. It made me wonder what kind of a person would do this kind of thing.

    Grandmother called up the rest of the family, unsure what to do next, and they all reckoned she was off her rocker until they came to see the sin for themselves. Uncle Albert cut death down as gently as he could, sawing off the rope with the Swiss army knife that never left him.

    After a small discussion it was decided that death should be given a proper Christian burial, because really, what else was there to do?

    Death died this morning. Uncle Albert reckons it was those damn commie bastards who committed the crime, Grandma says that it’s got to do with religion, but I have my own theories. But one thing was for sure, as we stood over the hole of fresh dirt, hands clasped, lacking for even awkward words to say. Death was dead; there was no denying that, and dark times were sure to be coming over the years just ahead.

  11. Samford University had the exact same effect on me.

  12. When my Mom died a few years ago, I became a 50-y.o. orphan and Death crept a little closer to me. I finally "got" what had apparently been only an intellectual exercise before.

    Friends and my therapist encourage the notion that the realization of death should make the experience of life that much more vivid and precious, but I haven't been able to go there - yet, if ever. Life and everything about it just seems more poignant and fragile and ephemeral and sad. Maybe it'll happen, but I'm not sanguine.

    What I do know about sleeplessness is this: you can meditate - however you can find to do this that works for you - and a quieter and peaceful "voice" from wherever (I think it's from inside, but opinions vary on this subject) will emerge and you will feel calmer and be able to sleep.

    No matter what I've experienced - whatever painful, earth-shattering, anxiety-producing crap I've gone through - meditation has been a reliable calmative.

    I don't adhere to any religious practice or associate with any spiritual group. This is just something that I picked up in my late teens that's helped me throughout my life.

    It just helps keep the ordinary garden variety existential angst from turning into sleep-removing, joy-destroying existential panic. And sometimes brings pretty awesome creative ideas with it, as a bonus.

    If all else fails, turn the light on and grab a good book.

  13. this is a very hard issue to think about... this is our destiny, and we can´t do anything to avoid it...

    life sucks... then you die...

    I met death when my sister died and that encounter scaried me so much than even today, almost 20 years later, I´m afraid of the dark...

    So, live... if you keep thinking about it all the time, your life is gonna pass...

  14. Dear Amber,

    I too, discovered this at a youn age. Well I was like 7-9 years old. I was sitting in class one day listening to a story being read aloud by my teacher at the time. It was about a girls younger brother dying of cancer. Me being the most naive one in the class raised my hand asking why he had to die. My teacher simply responded because we all have to die some day, his day was just sooner than most.I went home that day and nothing made sense anymore, why do we go through the pain and joys of living to have it all taken away in the blink of an eye. Why do we get up in the morning then?

    This thought still perplexes me now more than ever. (now im 13)

    I just dont understand it. and I dont thinkI ever will


  15. Have to say at 53 and having lost both parents I spend some time thinking about death. But I also find that my sleeplessness more often comes from thinking about life. That is to say..I usually lay awake thinking of all those things I could be getting done if I wasn't lying in bed! Also..of what I need to do the next day..or how to do it..or what could go wrong..or how great something is going to be..or ...well you get the idea! that I've read your post I'll probably lie awake tonight thinking about death!

  16. I have nights like that, too. I really hate the time spent lying in bed waiting for sleep to come. The worst thing is my dogs, because they live such a short span of time, and I love them both so terribly, and I realize that one day in the not-so-distant future, they will die, and it's just horribly, horrendously gut-wrenching and awful. Times like that, and when I think about my boyfriend dying, I think it would be easier and safer not to care for things, and I wonder why I set myself up for such crushing loss with a relationship and dogs, and it gets a little hard to breathe. So boy, do I feel you. And now probably tonight, that's what I'll be caught up in thinking about, when I'd rather be thinking about something like Guitar Hero...

  17. Rather than sharing my own experiences, which also included a fear induced (near) mental breakdown, I feel the sudden urge to translate a Dutch childrens poem as a reply to this blog, so I'll give it a try:

    Once upon a time there was a King, mighty as Seth
    With only one enemy and that was Death
    Why did Death have to ruin his life, why?
    why was he so afraid, so afraid to die?

    The King then called upon all his wise men
    who by carriage and horse arrived to his den
    "morning wise men" the King said with grace
    I'm stuck with a question, of answers no trace

    A youngster replied, a vain little man
    "ask away sir, I think that I can"
    do you want to know the number of stars
    or the weight of all sand on the eastern bazars?
    or how masses of people evade paying taxes or..."

    "well, no..." The King interupted, with an absent mind;
    Why do we die, that's the answer I can't find
    Not one of the wise men expected this question
    "beat me to Death" was the youngest's suggestion

    By the eldest of wise men the silence was filled
    "Sir, a few people get themselves killed,
    some folks without luck die accidental,
    but simple aging kills most of us all"

    "Yeah" said the King, somewhat short on his tact
    "I am not stupid, that is a fact
    But tell me what Death is, why am I so scared?"

    The wisest of men started a plea
    "Hear this my Sir, I've got an idea
    Maybe you should learn to live with Death"
    The King got angry, his face turned bright red
    "I demand answers! what is that Death?"

    A dreamer stood up, and spoke with some flair
    "King let me tell how I view this affair
    Death comes to get you, it takes you away
    So he must excist, we can make him pay

    We have to catch him if living you crave
    Let's rid us of Death, away with the grave"
    "you can't catch Death" the wisest one said
    "'cause on his toutch, you will be dead"

    The King then came up with a marvelous plan
    He said, "I know an elderly, very sick man
    He's got maybe just an hour ahead
    he has an apointment, appointment with Death

    we'll build a cage of glass 'round his bed
    the door will be open and in comes the Death
    After he enters and starts with his rage
    we will just close the door of the cage"

    So was decided and started right away
    Death was caught before the end of the day
    Sad and pathethic he sat behind glass
    As if a living statue he was.

    Never before were the people so happy
    years and years there was nothing but party
    but after a while the party grew boring
    bad games were started, the danger was soaring
    folks jumped in canyons and from high towers
    others were eating tons of poisonous flowers

    They made war for fun, whithout any scorn
    cause no man was dying, not one soul was thorn
    but all the while loads of new babies where born

    It got too crowded, people got antsy
    some even got pushed into the sea
    hundred years later the fun was all done
    men started longing to one day be gone

    The King thought, "I´m no longer that much afraid
    Bit I'm tired and reigned for a decade or twenty-eight"

    Once more he called upon his wise men
    and he said, "what do we do, where will this all end?"
    the wisest of them, threehundred by then,
    said "Death must be freed, or all goes wrong my friend"
    The youngest replied "but who sets him free?
    the first to die, will surely be he"

    The King rose theatrical and said "I'm your man"
    Let me go and do it, goodbye everyone"
    my fear for Death is kinda cured by now
    I think eternal life is scarier somehow

    He strode to the cage, grand and dignified
    and opened the door, whereafter he died
    "hurray for Death" folks shouted full laughter
    they lived on for long and died happily after

    (sorry, translating poems is a very hard thing to do, but I tried my best)

    Greetings from the Dutchness :p

  18. Saw my gran and grandad die before me. They were there on their bed looking at me and then they were gone, just sacks of flesh.

    My wife's nephew killed his girlfriend and then killed himself this morning.
    And I wonder what terrible thing was chasing him that he had to willingly take a gun, end someone's existence and then snuff out his own.
    Even when you know death is around, you never see it coming and you can never deal with it.
    It's like screaming at mountain and willing it to move. It just is.
    And you just try to pick up the pieces afterwards and hope there is something left to be picked up.

    .....And sleeping is last on your mind.

  19. Exactly this. I hate my brain sometimes.

  20. Hey there - Sorry to hear the thought of death is giving you such a hard time. I think we have all been there at some point in our lives.

    BUT - there is no need to fear death. We have been taught to see death as "the ultimate end", when really it is merely the end of one brief segment of our lives. Our physical body may cease to be, but our immortal spirit lives on forever. We have always been, are, and will be. That which is truely us will never end. The death of the physical body should not be feared, but rather looked forward to, as the next chapter of our being, so to speak.

    You may be interested in the book "Our Ultimate Reality" by Adrian Cooper. It has given me a different angle from which to view my existence, and has taken away a lot of fears and questions I previously had. For more info, check out the website:

    I came upon this book while looking for answers. I thought there must be more to life than what I was seeing. And there surely is.

    Take care - Jaime.

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  22. Fascinating. Just as I'm suffering from the same problem I come across this blog post of yours.

    I've always envied those who don't seem able to grasp the true finality of death. That moment of knowing what it means that there's nothing after, you know? Me, I'm not so lucky.

    Fifth grade, watching a documentary about mummies in ancient Egypt. That was my moment. Nights have indeed never been the same.


  23. Gee, I remember the first time I thought about death. I was four, or maybe three, you know how you lose your memories and can only recall certain things... Well, I remember I was in my room playing with my dolls, and I have this cousin who just loved (still loves) to be a know it all. I don't know what we were talking about but then she mentioned that we were going to die eventually. I did not wanted to die, it had to be a lie (I thought)! I was always a quiet girl (ALWAYS), but those words made me hysterical. My mom entered the room and tried to calm me down and explain to me how death and life worked but I was just too young, eventually she just told me I was not going to die until I had 500 years and since that moment (almost all my life)I've been afraid to grow old... Hence why I think of my birthday as a bittersweet occassion (hurray for cake and presents!)