Book Review: Remember Me As You Pass By

IMG_5649

Remember Me As You Pass By: Stories from Prairie Graveyards

Written by Nancy Millar

Remembering that we all die has the power to put our small discomforts and minor disputes automatically into perspective. The fact of death is the truest thing I know. And nothing drives the truth of mortality home like a stroll through a peaceful cemetery on a sunny summer day. Each of the folks represented by those bronze plates, concrete markers, and granite headstones experienced their own small discomforts and minor disputes. This was called “life.”

One day a couple years back, I noticed through the large glass window in our front door that something was hanging from the exterior door handle. There was a note with the book, Remember Me As You Pass By: Stories from Prairie Graveyards. It read: “I was doing some house cleaning, found this and thought of you.”

Remember Me Image

I was very touched by the gift but apparently not touched enough to read it until recently when provided the quiet by the coronavirus pandemic. I’m so glad I took the time to open up this paper copy and to savour its contents. This is an extraordinarily well-written and well-researched book. Besides knowing how to write and how to unearth some great stories, Nancy Millar is also pretty funny!

She writes about the “real” Sam McGee, a customer at the Canadian Bank of Commerce in Whitehorse, Yukon, where the fledgling poet, Robert Service, worked as a teller, and how Sam brought a bag of his own ashes home during a return trip to the North.

“When he visited Whitehorse at the end of the prospecting trip, he discovered that his old cabin there had been spruced-up as a tourist attraction and one of the items being offered for sale in the gift shop was “Genuine Sam McGee ashes.” Not only had he died, according to the tourist bureau of Whitehorse, but he had been such a massive man that his ashes would apparently supply tourist demand for some time.”

I also enjoyed how Nancy Millar describes Canmore, Alberta:

“Canmore is a pleasant mountain town on the edge of Banff National Park. Part of it wants to be big and rich like Switzerland; part of it wants to be small and modest like Canmore.”

There are a few really good chuckles in this read and they are placed alongside heartbreaking tales of tragedy that brought tears to my eyes for people long dead who I never knew. In the introduction, the author tells of a young couple who homesteaded in the early 1920s in the Innisfail, Alberta area. To earn money to help get them established, the husband went to work in Innisfail for a few months, leaving his newly-pregnant bride at home. He never did return. When his work at the brick plant in town was done, he started out on the twenty-mile journey on foot. He was robbed and killed along the way, his body left in a ditch.

“When the police found him in the spring, after the snow had melted and revealed his body, they rode out to tell his wife. But she had died too, in childbirth. Her twin babies were dead beside her.”

This book isn’t only about death and cemeteries. Instead, the graveyards and grave markers serve as jumping off places for Nancy Millar’s explorations of Canadian prairie history. It’s also a book that makes me want to explore prairie cemeteries even more than I have prior to reading Remember Me as You Pass By. At the end of the book, Nancy Millar includes a practical section called “How to Explore a Graveyard.” Handy! She reminds us to visit respectfully and to close gates. Then she goes into more detail for those readers interested in doing further exploration and maybe conducting some research.

If you love Canadian prairie history, old places, and colourful stories, then you will thoroughly enjoy this 1994 publication.

 Then think as soft and slow we tread

Among the solitary dead

Time was, like us, they life possessed

And time shall be when we shall rest.

~ from the Calgary grave marker of George Park

 

Hard-Won Happiness

Doctors

I was just thinking about how it doesn’t feel much like Easter. When I woke up this morning, some dry snowflakes were drifting down from the lead-grey sky, and that felt about right.

It’s been a mixed time in my life. I myself, this being, am just fine. I’m healthy, occupied enough, and enjoying my at-home activities. In my larger life, though, folks have been ill and dying around me. Not because of the COVID-19 pandemic, mind you. Their illnesses and passing merely coincide with the world’s other difficulties. And so I’m a bit heavyhearted right now. But, on the other hand, I’m so grateful to be well and to be able to give my love and support to those whose suffering is much more close-up than mine.

As always and as with most humans, I’m learning that I can feel a whole bunch of emotions at once and that these feelings can range from glowingly positive to downright negative. And I can experience them nearly simultaneously. Still, I don’t mind experiencing how I feel. I just wish sometimes the emotions would settle down a bit, be a little steadier. But wouldn’t we all?

Piranhas

My Twitter friend Donna shared these images the other day and I’ve been wildly re-sharing because nothing puts a global pandemic in perspective better than humour does!

Well, folks, that’s about all I’ve got to say about that. Please take care, and if you’re celebrating within your religious tradition these weekend, enjoy. It will be different, I know, with physical distancing in place, but this obstacle can perhaps make your joy and connectedness feel more special because, this year, it’s hard won.

Wishing you all the best,

Lori

A Collage of Photos and Thoughts

Hello everyone! I hope you’ve had a great week. This piece is my excuse to post a few of my favourite thoughts, quotes, and images. Have a good weekend and thanks for stopping by. ~ Lori

Divested – A Poem

Invested:

IMG_5649
Country cemetery near Madison, Saskatchewan.

Dig a hole,
Build a house,
Or buy a house.
Big screen TV,
Recreational vehicle,
a boat to tow behind.

Renovate:

New cupboards,
New floors.
Fix up the bathroom,
Replace the light fixtures.
New dishes,

IMG_7183 (2)
Autumn landscape off into the distance.

New furniture,
And carpets to match.

 

 

Eliminate:

First a garage sale,
Then the house sale.

Smaller place:

A condominium,
Or assisted-living.
Another sale,
Adult children post
accumulation on Kijiji.

20190929_164949 (1)
Into the woods.

Much smaller place:

 

Cremation or casket?
Dig a hole.
Divested.

DIGITAL CAMERA
An autumn road near home.

MarkTwain ALie

Don_t Come To My Funeral(My Bad Poem That Makes a Good Point)Don_t come to my funeral,I won_t care.Don_t come to my funeral,I won_t be there.But when I invite you to A barbeque

Not Young Enough

Don’t Assume There’s a Later

After dying in a car crash, three friends go to Heaven for orientation. They are all asked this question: “When you are in your casket, with friends and family mourning for you, what would you like to hear them say about you?”

The first guy immediately responds, “I would like to hear them say that I was one of the great doctors of my time and a great family man.”

The second guy says, “I would like to hear that I was a wonderful husband and school teacher who made a huge difference to our children of tomorrow.”

The last guy thinks for a minute then replies, “I’d like to hear them say ‘LOOK, HE’S MOVING!’”


Before beginning this piece I deliberated for a long while because I don’t know if you’ll be interested in reading about this experience or not. Why did I hesitate and why am I still wondering if this will be a suitable topic? As you know, dear reader, I tend to write quite a bit about death and, compared to the other lighter, funny topics I touch on, the death-themed blogs, strangely enough, aren’t as popular. Go figure.

In my experience, people generally don’t like to think about dying. As I’ve expressed before, though, death is one of those big things we all have in common and the greatest fact that makes me appreciate life. I would go so far as to say that death gives my life meaning. Why should I live fully, take chances, eat good food and drink good wine? Because I’m going to die, that’s why. I can’t think of a better reason or a more solid truth than that. Death has given me a deep respect for life. I’m not suggesting that mortality should be the centre of your thoughts; I’m only stating that considering my own mortality has benefited my living.

About thirteen years ago now, I devoured the DVD boxset of the HBO drama Six Feet Under. The five-year-long series told the story of the Fisher family, of their friends and the people they meet along the way, and of their Los Angeles funeral home business. The show’s finale reveals how each main character reaches the end of the line, and by the time I’d finished watching this final episode, I knew what I was going to do.

Within a few months, I had made an appointment with a lawyer to get a will created, purchased a cemetery plot outside of town and wrote the script for my own funeral. Should I get taken out by a semi on the way to work one morning, everything is ready to go in a tidy manila file folder. I’m certain I’m going to die and uncertain about when, so it seemed most considerate to those who will have to deal with my departure that I prepared for it.

More than mere consideration for those left living prompted me to undergo this process. Writing my own funeral, standing atop that tiny prairie plot and discussing my last will and testament made death very real to me. It was no longer an event that was going to happen sometime. It became an event that could happen anytime. This new, sharper perspective brought to my life a kind of gentle urgency that whispers in my ear, “What’s most important? Do it now. Don’t assume there’s a later.”

Do I still go on autopilot several times throughout the day? Do I forget that each moment is unique and precious, never to be experienced again? Do I fail to remember that tomorrow may never come? You bet. But remembering death’s inevitability is the quickest way to swing my intentions back around to what matters most to me right here and right now. That’s the gift death has given me.

 

Dying Butterfly

DIGITAL CAMERA
A fall road from around here.

Hello everyone! I hope you’re having a great weekend. I spent the day visiting some old friends. We ate freshly-baked chocolate zucchini cake and had a good chat. Here’s a post I wrote a few years back. It’s about a former student and how a dying butterfly got us talking about life and death.

The other day, a child brought me a butterfly. He held out his hands and gently opened them to reveal a very cold butterfly indeed. The boy told me, “Ms. K., I found this butterfly.” I could tell that he believed that I would know what to do with this delicate creature suspended somewhere between life and death – as if I know anything about life and death. But there he stood, waiting for an answer and, in a way, I was honoured that he sought it from me.

Listen to me read this post:

It was obvious that the butterfly was on its last legs and so I suggested a solution that would benefit as many creatures as possible. “Would you like me to take it back outside and set it somewhere safe? Then the butterfly will fly away or will be food for a hungry bird that needs it.” The student thought this was acceptable, and off he went to unpack his backpack as I headed out the front doors to find a sheltered spot in which to leave the butterfly.

DIGITAL CAMERA
Mountain ash leaves in the autumn.

Who ever knows the best course of action when faced with life’s big questions, especially those questions about life and death? Are there right or wrong answers? I suspect that there aren’t any, and that’s why, in this case, I tried to look beyond the limited life span of the tiny, winged creature and into the larger world. If the boy and I had merrily tossed the butterfly to the classroom floor, stomped on it and flung it into the garbage can, what a waste it would have been!

The butterfly is likely dead by now and, I hope, has provided some fuel for a migratory journey. That, surely, is the best outcome. I think. But when it comes to the fact of mortality, I don’t feel very certain at all. I suppose all we can do in the face of death is to accept it and live until we die with the aim of providing the most benefit as possible while we are on the earth.

IMG_0316

If you like what you read and heard here, consider following me. That would be great! Thanks for reading and listening. ~ Lori

A Binge-Worthy New Netflix Series

Ricky Gervais
Actor and comedian, Ricky Gervais.

Are you looking for a worthwhile binge watch that deals with deeper subject matter? Then you might enjoy “After Life”.

Formerly, I’ve not been a Ricky Gervais fan. I mean, he seems like a nice enough man, but I don’t share his sense of humour. Because of this I never sought out any television shows or movies that he had a hand in. In fact, I usually avoided works associated with him.

 

I didn’t know when I began watching After Life on Netflix that Ricky Gervais both wrote and directed this one-season (so far) television series. If I’d known that it was Gervais’ concept, I might have not clicked the title. There are so many shows vying for our attention on Netflix that one small thing can turn us off a production. Because of my narrow view of Ricky Gervais, I might have missed out on this touching, funny, six-episode drama. So thank goodness I didn’t know “After Life” was his idea.

If you know me, you know that I’m interested in ideas about death and in particular, how we deal with mortality in ourselves and in the ones we love. Life is sweeter because we know we will die and that the people we walk with will meet the same fate. I am a fan of art that takes a good, hard look at our perception and our experience of death.

In “After Life” Gervais expertly portrays one man’s reaction to his wife of 25 years dying from cancer. No, it’s not true of everyone’s experience. This is clearly one character’s response to losing the person he most dearly cherished. This series covers a lot of ground in a limited number of episodes. The language is rough and the humour is dark, so if you’re uncomfortable with either of these things, you might choose not to watch the Netflix trailer for “After Life” I’ve posted below.

Have a happy Sunday, dear readers! Thanks for dropping by. I’d love it if you’d follow me here on WordPress and if you’d share my posts to your social media platforms. That would be awesome!

Cheers,

~ Lori

 

Dying Butterfly

DIGITAL CAMERA
A fall road from around here.

Hello everyone! I hope you’re having a great weekend. I spent the day visiting some old friends. We ate freshly-baked chocolate zucchini cake and had a good chat. Here’s a post I wrote a few years back. It’s about a former student and how a dying butterfly got us talking about life and death.

The other day, a child brought me a butterfly. He held out his hands and gently opened them to reveal a very cold butterfly indeed. The boy told me, “Ms. K., I found this butterfly.” I could tell that he believed that I would know what to do with this delicate creature suspended somewhere between life and death – as if I know anything about life and death. But there he stood, waiting for an answer and, in a way, I was honoured that he sought it from me.

Listen to me read this post:

It was obvious that the butterfly was on its last legs and so I suggested a solution that would benefit as many creatures as possible. “Would you like me to take it back outside and set it somewhere safe? Then the butterfly will fly away or will be food for a hungry bird that needs it.” The student thought this was acceptable, and off he went to unpack his backpack as I headed out the front doors to find a sheltered spot in which to leave the butterfly.

DIGITAL CAMERA
Mountain ash leaves in the autumn.

Who ever knows the best course of action when faced with life’s big questions, especially those questions about life and death? Are there right or wrong answers? I suspect that there aren’t any, and that’s why, in this case, I tried to look beyond the limited life span of the tiny, winged creature and into the larger world. If the boy and I had merrily tossed the butterfly to the classroom floor, stomped on it and flung it into the garbage can, what a waste it would have been!

The butterfly is likely dead by now and, I hope, has provided some fuel for a migratory journey. That, surely, is the best outcome. I think. But when it comes to the fact of mortality, I don’t feel very certain at all. I suppose all we can do in the face of death is to accept it and live until we die with the aim of providing the most benefit as possible while we are on the earth.

IMG_0316

If you like what you read and heard here, conisder following me. That would be great! Thanks for reading and listening. ~ Lori

Why Thinking About Death is Worthwhile

IMG_6507
Potted petunias in my backyard.

Whenever I see a dead bird in my backyard, I feel sad. I consider this backyard with its flowers and shrubs and birdfeeder and birdbath to be a sanctuary for birds, bees, and butterflies. Those little creatures are welcome here.

This morning I was out mowing the lawn in the already oppressive heat. As I pushed the manual reel mower up alongside the house, I spotted a still, headless blue jay.

For the last week or so, there had been a young blue jay spending a lot of time at the feeder. I liked this bird because he didn’t yet know enough to fly away when I stood close by to watch him eat. This lack of fear probably contributed to his lack of life.

Listen to me read this post:

The dead blue jay made me think, “I’ve been walking the earth for fifty-one years. This little guy only lived for maybe fifty-one days.”

IMG_4277
A very-much-alive blue jay in my backyard a couple winters ago.

Life is Short and Death is Long

Our time is limited and mostly we don’t control how long we get to live. Death always makes me think of life. I feel sad and, at the same time, I feel profoundly grateful. The reality of inevitable death makes me cherish life and makes my own days that much sweeter.

It’s not that death is pleasant to think about or that I savour finding a young blue jay with its head torn off. It’s that death is the most effective, most present reminder of life. It’s more difficult to deeply appreciate life without seriously acknowledging death.

A Lucrative Industry

Our western culture is not big on death, and there’s a number of thriving industries that sell ways to prolong life and ways to avoid death. What a lucrative business and what a futile pursuit.

IMG_6515
I planted wildflowers this season to attract bees, birds, and butterflies.

I Keep Death Close

Death is a companion that I keep close. Some have said, “Don’t dwell on death! It’s so depressing.” What’s depressing to me is that by ignoring death I might take life for granted and thereby squander my time here on earth. Now that would be really sad.

I’m not gothic character. I don’t dress in black, I don’t wear heavy dark makeup around my eyes, and I don’t drink whisky from the bottle in late-at-night cemeteries. I don’t really dwell on death either; I just don’t let it far out of my sight.

Somehow, Sometime

Death reminds me that my fate is the same as the young blue jay’s. Well, maybe not the getting my head ripped off by a bird of prey part, but you never know. Like the blue jay, I will die somehow and sometime, and looking this fact straight in the eye helps me live more fully. Realizing my own death makes me realize my own aliveness. And to me, that makes thinking about death worth it.

Wildflowers
A variety of wildflowers in my backyard. (You’ll notice I didn’t post a photo of the headless blue jay. You’re welcome.)

Did you like what you read here? Consider following my blog either right here on WordPress or through email. See the right sidebar to follow me. It’s easy and it’s free. This way, you won’t miss any of my posts. Thanks for reading! ~ Lori

On Trees – by Susan Briscoe (from The Death Project)

Here’s an interesting writer who engagingly and generously shares her experience of dying. We’ve all got to do it sooner or later, and I sure appreciate the wisdom passed along by folks like Susan. Be sure to check out her posts and site here on WordPress. (Her photos – as featured here – are wonderful, too!)

img_20180428_090949_1956851316569250302

View Susan’s post via On Trees

Divested – A Poem

People in my life are going through big changes. All these changes remind me of what’s important. It’s not stuff. This is a poem I wrote called “Divested.”

Listen to me read this poem here:

Icarus Cemetery
Me at the Lakeview Cemetery about to conduct a tour. I like cemeteries. They’re a solid reminder of what matters.

Invested:

Dig a hole,

Build a house,

Or buy a house.

Big screen TV,

Recreational vehicle,

A boat to tow behind.

Renovate:

New cupboards,

New floors.

Fix up the bathroom,

Replace the light fixtures.

New dishes,

New furniture,

DIGITAL CAMERA
A beautiful, sombre statue in a Savannah, Georgia cemetery.

And carpets to match.

First garage sale,

Then the house sale.

Smaller place:

A condominium,

Or assisted-living.

Another sale,

Adult children post

accumulation on Kijiji.

Cremation or casket?

Dig a hole.

Divested.

Don’t Come To My Funeral

This is a post I wrote back in 2017 when I threw a birthday party and was somewhat dismayed at the lack of response my invitations received. Still, we had a really good time. It was almost as fun as any funeral.

Listen to me read this post or read it below. And, please, come to my barbeque.

Don_t Come To My Funeral(My Bad Poem That Makes a Good Point)Don_t come to my funeral,I won_t care.Don_t come to my funeral,I won_t be there.But when I invite you to A barbequeYears ago, I attended a friend’s 90th birthday party.  Her family intended it to be a celebration of this woman’s life. That’s what funerals are now sometimes called: celebrations of life. Only this celebration was held before the one we were celebrating had died. It was wonderful.

I loved seeing her glow as each eulogy was given. Some of the stories were touching and some were funny, and all illustrated a piece of her life. What a waste these tales would’ve been if she’d have been too dead to hear all the sweet memories folks shared about her.

Funerals are for the living.

I do understand that funerals are for the living. They provide a chance to connect and a chance to accept the passing of a loved one. Mourning together is better.

Funerals affirm that, even in the face of death, life goes on. We’ll all die but for now, we are alive. Funerals are good to remind us of this fact.

I also understand why folks come out for funerals. At funerals you see everyone; all those old friends and relatives crawl out of the woodwork and come back home. They step out of their comfortable, full lives, and they come to mourn and visit and reconnect.

At funerals someone often asks, “Why don’t we ever get together like this when there’s not a funeral?” Good question.

DIGITAL CAMERA
Cemetery statue, Savannah, Georgia.

A gathering where no one’s dead can be fun too. 

Now and then, I’ll invite people to events at which everyone is alive. Often my invitation is turned down cold. I can’t compete with funerals.

Next time I host a party, I’m going to call it a funeral just to see if more people come. Death more than simple pleasure seems to be worth making an effort for.

Don’t put off living.

We’re all guilty of putting off a life that begs to be lived. We especially put off the pleasant things. There’s something in our culture that still esteems suffering while it diminishes enjoyment.

I had a great aunt who worked hard all her life at a mundane job that she disliked. She kept working and promised herself that when she retired, she’d finally travel and enjoy life. I loved and admired this woman. When she became ill and died before she got to travel, I paid attention.

Suffering is not more important than enjoyment.

In our western culture, a high premium is placed on stoic suffering. I get it. When pioneers came to this land, stoic suffering was their only choice. Put your head down and work until you carved a life into this rugged nowhere. The strong survived and there wasn’t time to cultivate roses let alone smell them.

IMG_3147
A rose in my auntie’s garden.

It’s different now. We can relax a bit and enjoy being alive. I won’t suffer in the hopes that someone will shed an earned tear at my funeral. I’d gladly exchange a tearful funeral for a joy-filled life. I wouldn’t even mind a bitter eulogy: “All she did was go around being happy and savouring life.”

I’m no martyr. The fact is, my suffering doesn’t improve anyone else’s life. It only makes me miserable and, in turn, I make the world more miserable.

It won’t kill you to go to the party.

When someone calls you to go spend time with the living, try to go. I know. Life is busy and there are competing priorities. Keep in mind that it is far easier to visit with the folks we love, to hold them and be near them, before they are dead.

Life is short and enjoying it fully is more important than suffering through it. It’s respectful to attend the funerals, but it’s crucial to go to the barbeques.

Thanks for reading and listening! I hope you have a great new week wherever you are.

~ Lori