Tag Archives: death

Art, Mourning, and Immortality

Yesterday marked Edgar Allan Poe’s 207th birthday. Every year, I write a note on Facebook or Twitter (I think last year there was even a blog) thanking him for sharing his works, for influencing my own. How I try to honor his gift in my life and in my work.

Monday marked a week since David Bowie died (which is still bizarre to say/type/consider or accept as factual statement). I woke up to a text from my sister apologizing for the “sad news” I was going to hear and–in a run-on statement–asking if I could pick her up from school. Another text just read “David Bowie WHYYY?” I didn’t bother putting my contacts in and pulled up Twitter to find out that a man I’d adored since I was child was no longer with us.

I can’t remember being so greatly saddened by a celebrity death. I guess Bowie is, technically, my first. An mourning an artist is a strange state. I spent Monday in a haze, intermitantly sobbing, debating if I could watch Labyrinth (I couldn’t), and trying to imagine what the world would be like now that it had lost some of its glitter. Everyone dies, so it’s not like I didn’t expect it one day, in the distant future, but if anyone was going to be immortal, it’d be him.

Labyrinth was my first introduction to Bowie. We had it recorded on a VHS off the television, then I finally got the official VHS one year for Christmas. I wore both out. I’ve since upgraded to DVD, including the 25th Anniversary version. Let’s be honest, I’ll burn those copies out, too. I watch it at least once a year.

It’s always been a dream of mine to one day write my own version of Labyrinth.

I used to dance around to Rebel, Rebel while putting on makeup. There were, of course, periods of time where I didn’t think of Bowie, or listen to his songs. When he released Next Day a couple of years ago, I was not so secretly hoping for a tour. Not a big tour. Just the major cities. The man was in his 60s, still young. I’d have paid anything to see that show.

And then Blackstar happened. I saw the link for the Lazarus video on Facebook and didn’t click it. And then he was gone.

I know I would have seen the signs if I’d looked. Maybe. There’s still part of me that would have been in reasonable denial. Afterall, The Goblin King isn’t bound by the rules of mortals.

Underground popped up on shuffle the other day, and I ugly-cried in my car. I did better with As The World Falls Down. Work Radio added Let’s Dance to their mix along with Under Pressure. I stopped yesterday afternoon to just listen, despite being half an hour past the end of my shift.

It’s strange to mourn someone you only knew through their art, especially when the world as whole is mourning with you. There’s some comfort in that shared pain, makes you feel less… silly for crying over someone you never met. I didn’t know David Jones, but David Bowie taught me the importance of embracing my strangeness. If David Bowie could make being David Bowie cool, then I could do anything.

So Tuesday, I put on glitter and faced the world and did whatever I wanted to do because I wanted to do it.

In a little over a week, he’s gotten a lightning bolt-shaped constallation named after him. Other artists and actors and people are coming forward to share stories. He finally had a Number 1 album in America. He turned his death into something so artistically powerful, you can’t help but marvel at it.

In the end, he did achieve immortality. Art allows everyone to live forever.

I’ve been struggling over the last couple weeks with completing the plot for The Current Project. Turns out what I needed was Bowie. If this book makes it into the world, I hope you find him in it.

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Death Positivity and Knowing You’re Going to Die

We’re all going to die.

I don’t mean that in an apocalyptic, end-of-the-world way. It’s just fact. Death is the one thing we have in common with everyone–everything–in the world. The reality is we will all lose someone we love, if we haven’t already. It is inevitable, but it’s always the last thing we think about, or want to think about.

I think about death a lot. Every day. Call it a job hazard, call it an obsession. Death fascinates me. The ritual of death fascinates me. I spend a good deal of time reading about it, writing about it; I watch medical shows and collect antique medical equipment.

You might remember The Christmas Eve Incident and the post I wrote about “being goth.” I’d like to think I’m not into labels, but other people sure seem set on sticking me in a box with a big black sticker on the front. Well, the Incident repeated itself a few days ago. I was idly minding my own business, doing my job, when the same person made a comment about how “[I] probably enjoy crashing funerals.”

This popped into my YouTube feed about the same time.

There are few things that make me more uncomfortable than funerals. My grandmother was the first person in my life to die. I went to her Mass at the church, and ditched the burial to set up for the lunch. I couldn’t stand the thought of enduring more than that. When my grandfather died last year, he was cremated, so there was no viewing, no wake, just a memorial service at the cemetery in the freezing wind and rain.

Though it’s true that I love cemeteries, and have even had a small cemetery picnic, burying my dead is not fun. It hurts. And it should hurt. These are people who occupied a space in your life. Their absence should be felt, but I think, by and large, we’ve moved so far from the ritual of death that everything hurts so much worse.

Fact: I have seen two dead bodies in my 26 years of existence. One was my grandmother at her wake. The other was my next door neighbor, when my mother found her in the yard.

It used to be the norm to care for the dead, to wash and dress them and prepare them for burial. Families were involved in the entire process. Now, we call a coroner and an unmarked car carries the body away. A stranger embalms it, adds makeup to make it appear less like a corpse. We hide it in boxes or burn it and store the ashes in an urn, keeping inorganic material as a token but never really investing more in the death than that.

If we don’t talk about it, it goes away, slinks back into the dark corners, into the closet, under the bed. Except it doesn’t work like that. We have to face it. I’m not saying you have to keep a body in your home, but there’s something to be said for being death positive, for taking steps to understand what’s going to happen when our lungs stop expanding or our hearts stop beating.

The things I miss are things I’ve never experienced: I miss mourning jewelry. I miss the ritual of covering clocks and windows. I miss jazz funerals and sky burials (those things still happen, actually.) We can push death away and keep it locked up, but it’s still seeping through the cracks. Why not embrace it? Why not welcome it as the last step in living? Why not provide the good death instead of hiding?

The pain is part of it. That won’t go away. But I think understanding, reconnecting, will give us another vantage point.

I wish I’d thought to ask for locks of hair. I will now. I’ll keep them in a box, carefully curated. Hair, like cremated remains, is inorganic. It will not fade, or age, or turn to dust.  I want to stop being afraid because in all seriousness, death does not scare me. The idea of hurting scares me, the idea of seeing those I love in pain scares me, but death nothing to be feared.

No, I don’t “enjoy crashing funerals.” They’re rituals. They’re sacred. I would never defile anyone’s right to mourn or to feel loss just because I’m death-curious.

Death is nothing to be ashamed of. Death deserves to be respected, honored, and cherished. It’s something to be curious about and explore, not to keep tucked away like a secret. I’m delighted to know people like Caitlin Doughty, and The Order of the Good Death, are out there, encourage people to come to terms with mortality, especially their own.

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