Tag Archives: death


I catch the movie Meet Joe Black and finally see it beginning to end–I’ve only ever seen the ending. I am stunned by Brad Pitt’s beauty. He’s playing Death, and I think, what if death really is this beautiful?

It’s over, Anthony Hopkins’ character says. He means his life. The words reverberate. What a moment that must be: when you know to your core that you are going to die. Does that realization change you? Cleanse you? Purify? Electrify? What? It seems like it would have to shade the acts of living a precious vibrant purple, a bold, deliberate red.

And at the end, before Hopkins walks away with beautiful death, he says to the people gathered to celebrate his birthday, I want nothing more.

I’m reminded of a Sufi poem by Rumi:

On the day I die, when I’m being carried toward the grave

don’t weep,

don’t say “he’s gone! he’s gone!”

 Death has nothing to do with going away.

The sun sets and the moon sets

but they’re not gone.

 Death is a coming together.

The tomb looks like a prison 

But it’s really release into Union.

 The human seed goes down in the ground

like a bucket into the well where Joseph is.

It grows and comes up full of some unimagined beauty.

 Your mouth closes here

and immediately opens with a shout of joy




Thinking about heroines….thinking about a lecture I heard Jean Bolen give at the Jung Center last year. Among the things she said was that a heroine’s journey often begins because she is cast on her own and didn’t expect it. Unchosen circumstances put her on an individualistic path. I was thinking about my path, about the very domestic life I thought I would have. And how I didn’t obtain it though some unwise choices. I tried to tame a tiger. I have a friend on a heroine’s journey right now; she’s adjusting to the death of a long-time partner. But it’s not only a partner’s death that puts on a woman on a path that contains only her. There’s divorce, illness, disease, the death of a child, the death of a dream. There’s some Mary Oliver line….to love what is mortal and let it go. It takes a heroine’s heart to do that. What makes a heroine? Do you know?


I sat Friday in the office of a funeral home looking at packages for cremation. It’s for Mom….not that anything’s happened, but we don’t have a thing in place for the time when she leaves us. Mom’s not sick….if you can call having Alzheimer’s not sick….and the funeral home was small and quiet and surprisingly comforting. As I discussed details with someone, tears came up. There was a momentary glimpse of that time when she will be no more and of the big gap it will leave in my life. I had glanced through a book on grief as I was waiting. With Alzheimer’s, the book said, you lose your role, your place, with the beloved person long before you lose the person. That moved some of my continuing upset into a more understandable place. A funny Mother story: she grabbed up the four placemats from the dining room table not long ago, went to the front door, and announced, I’m ready to go. Is she? And am I ready myself?

it was time

Larry’s dad just died. His father had fallen out of bed and broken his hip. His dad was in his 90s and not going gentle into that good night. Larry and his brother had brought him to Texas two years ago and put him in the best nursing home they could find, but he ran away back to Louisiana and forever after talked about how Larry and his brother had put him in jail. He survived the operation, was walking around within days, but they found blood in his stomach, and a second operation ensued. It was too much, and he slipped away. Larry was fairly serene, saying his dad had just changed addresses and was with Jesus. And that it was time.

I told my brother, Larry said, that I know where Daddy is eating breakfast today, with Momma and Aunt Margie. He’s eating eggs and fried squirrel––he loved fried squirrel––and Aunt Margie’s biscuits. Which led us into a conversation about the food after the funeral. His father’s wife’s Aunt Vera, 91, thank you very much, made a jello salad with an inch of whipped cream across the top, and Larry, who jogs and stays fit, had four helpings.

I’ve been lucky. I’ve known some fine people, Larry told me, beginning to name them. Uncle Clifford, Aunt Margie, Jesse, who was head of operations of the New Orleans dump once upon a time and let Larry play there for days when he was a boy until his mother had a fit and put a stop to it. Then Larry told me about all his father had done for him, put him through college, gone down to Mexico and gotten him out when he was in a serious motorcycle accident in his 20s, rehabilitated him by making him talk every day into a tape recorder and then listen back once a week and see his improvements. Larry stopped and wiped his eyes.

Love. Life. I love them so. Maybe they’re the same.

Listen, listen, listen

My sister Carmen, to whom this site is dedicated (see first post), has been on the scene lately. She died in 1995, and so I find the following stories very interesting and very moving. Here are the Carmen sightings of late….

My youngest sister, who was very close to Carmen and who helped so much with all the financial and hospital details of Carmen’s last days, reports that she felt Carmen’s presence so strongly on a day recently when she was doing church board work that all she could do was weep. A friend who sees things others don’t says to my sister that Carmen is there, hovering. My sister thinks, this hurts my heart so, and words come to her, my children’s hearts hurt, too. My younger sister has a strong sense that she must check in on Carmen’s children.

The day that my youngest sister tells me this story, Carmen’s daughter tells another, not because we’re talking about Carmen. In fact, we haven’t shared the first story at all.  Carmen’s daughter has a two-year-old son. He was looking at a family picture taken when Carmen was alive. Carmen is in the photo. There’s Papa, he says, pointing to Carmen’s husband and my niece’s father. There’s Uncle Gene, pointing to an uncle who is especially close to him. And then he points to Carmen. And there’s my angel, he says. My niece smiles when she tells me this. I find out she hasn’t taught him that, that more than likely he’s not seen a photo of Carmen before.

And finally, that being told, my niece has another story, of one of her brothers, very close to Carmen, her oldest. This son of Carmen has small daughters under five. One of the daughters touches his back in a place his mother–my sister, Carmen–used to touch often, an affectionate scratching place of old, a certain exact spot. (We mothers often scratch our sons’ backs because it is the only way they let us touch them after a certain age.) She told me to touch this and say hello, his lisping daughter tells him, and he becomes so upset–no one knows of this but him and his mother––that he jumps in his car and drives away as fast as he can.

There’s a song from the group Honey in the Rock. The dead are not dead, the lyrics go. They are in the fire that is dying, in the grasses that weep, in the whimpering rocks. Listen, listen, listen, the lyrics say. Carmen, we’re listening.

For you, Carmen

CarmenMy second novel was just reprinted, and it gives me another chance to say, I love you, little sister, this is for you. My sister died in 1995. She was 42 and left six children behind her, the youngest five, the oldest 20. I’ve never seen anyone die finer than she did. No blame, no recriminations, just a digging in to love harder.This new edition of Now Face to Face (it came out in January from Three Rivers Press) includes scenes I took out of the original manuscript. They were about a character dying, and I couldn’t bear for my sister, who really was dying, to read my imaginary death scenes. So I reworked the book and deleted those scenes.But now it’s been ten years. And there is a reprint. So the scenes are included in an afterward, which I dedicated to my sister. And this, too, this blog, this writing life, is for you, Carmen. You were beautiful. I love you. Karleen