Tea & Cake & Death

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Irish Wake Cake & Funeral Biscuits at Death Cafe Orlando. Photo: S.E. Walter

Three months ago I made the decision to host Orlando’s first Death Cafe.  This was a sudden decision, though it felt to me as if things had been leading up to it for a while.  A West Coast friend had recently blogged about her experiences attending her first Death Cafe, and I thought “huh!  I would like to do that as well”. I realized that over the past year or so I’d accumulated more than just a few friends who worked within or were involved in studies or researches surrounding some aspect of the Death industry.  And, well, my mother had just passed away two months prior, so I was still (and still am) processing that.

A search for a local Death Cafe proved fruitless; the closest being in Ocala, which I believe is an hour and a half drive from where I live. Why not just host my own, I thought.  According to the Death Cafe website, Death Cafes are considered a social franchise and anyone can do it. Why not me, indeed!

With some much needed encouragement from friends who pointed me in the direction of some Death Cafe veterans for advice and mentoring, I made my decision.  Me, someone who can barely open her mouth to speak to a stranger.  I was going to gather unfamiliar humans together and facilitate an afternoon’s discussion on Death.*

I was equally parts excited beyond belief and sick to death with dread.

I registered with the Death Cafe site and made an event page.  I created a facebook page for related content and updates.  I created a twitter account and to be thorough, I enlisted the help of a dear friend to create a separate blog for it (which, Death Cafe novices – if you are reading this, do not do those last two things.  I was contacted by Death Cafe and asked to take down the blog and twitter account.  Apparently this is a no-no that is somewhere listed in their rules, using the words ‘deathcafe’ in your twitter handle and/or blog.  I had overlooked that and rectified it as soon as possible). I posted about it on my own twitter account, my tumblr account, and my instagram.  And before you dismiss these as frivolous venues, you should know that one attendee did find it through tumblr, and another found it through my instagram account!

The months flew by, and Orlando Florida’s first Death Cafe was held on Saturday May 17th. On a rare, beautiful spring-like day, eleven people sought each other out to explore various thoughts surrounding their own mortality and discuss that aeons old Lurker, Death. For some Death was a familiar notion, and were well acquainted with it. They shared their stories, their wisdom, their insights. For others, Death was a stranger, a more abstract idea, and around this they expressed their expectations and their fears. Conversation was lively, punctuated by bursts of laughter and quieter chuckles of mirth – as well as, small silences and pauses for reflection. Topics ran the gamut, ranging from one’s first awareness of one’s own mortality, to the wish to be present (or not) when loved one has passed, from writing one’s own eulogy, to the decline of obituaries, and what to do with a parent’s remains when they have made no last wishes? In addition to the pieces of themselves that everyone shared, most all attendees brought delicious treats to the events, which were well received. As expected, cosying up so closely with Death for an afternoon leaves the soul a mite peckish.

*Many, MANY thanks to my generous sister and brother in law for opening their home up for this event. I really could not have done this without you guys, and I appreciate it more than you know. Also: sorry for leaving all that flour on the floor.

This, that & the other thing (I)

I spend a great deal of time piddling & dinking around on the internet and in the doing so, I stumble upon all manner of fascinating things. A few things that have recently caught my eye/piqued my interest/whipped my grey matter into a maelstrom…

How to know if you are reading a gothic novel – in pictures  Are there tyrants with scary eyes?  Virgins swooning piously? Spooky castles and probable monsters? You are most likely reading a gothic novel


Mothography by Warren Krupsaw
 
 These wee things sat on the photographer’s finger!


The Botanica Reliquaire series, by Fran Liscio,
  Beautiful and hearbreaking still life arrangements with found birds and flowers,

And new music from favorite artists! See below for new videos from First Aid Kit, Jolie Holland, and Julianna Barwick.

Thirty Eight

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I don’t know why I would say such I thing, but I honestly never thought I would live to see the age of thirty-eight.  I suppose that is a funny thing to admit, isn’t it? I’ve never had a death wish or engaged in dangerous behavior…it’s not as if I wanted to shuffle off this mortal coil at an early age. And I’d be doing my imagination a great disservice if I claimed that I just couldn’t imagine myself at this age (because I’ve got a pretty crazy imagination).  I don’t know what it is.  But here we are, at this place I never quite expected to be.

I am now two years older than my mother was when she started fibbing about her age. We were pretty dumb kids, I think. We thought our mother was 36 well into her 50s.

eight of pentacles

A natal day mini read presents the eight of pentacles.  Creativity, intent, immersion and focus. Practice, practice, practice.  Patience and hard work and continually acquiring knowledge, leading to expertise. Perfection may never come, but achieving a greater understanding of a process and learning new skills along the way is immensely valuable in it’s own right.  I love the spider in The Wild Unknown’s deck.  Spinning away busily, the same web over and over. Winds blow it away, hands swat and tear it.
A focused, detail-oriented little thing,  the spider spins it’s web again and again creating a beautiful and immensely functional, and ultimately nourishing piece of work.  I am making most of this up, of course. But there’s got to be something truthful and useful and good in all of that, and perhaps this year I shall figure it out.

posies

My fella’s lovely mama stopped in today and brought me some birthday posies.  On a day when I was missing my own mother’s voice (and hot on the heels of a rather melancholy mother’s day), there were not enough words for how much I appreciated the gesture.

I don’t know that we were particularly demonstrative toward each other, my mother and I, but she would, without fail, call me up every year on this day.  Even if it was just a voice mail, she always said to me “happy birthday, baby”.  I didn’t expect to miss hearing that so much.

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It was a rather quiet day, as most birthdays are now.  Anti-climatic.  Once you have passed your tenth year aren’t all birthdays like that? I had done all of my birthday shopping & shows last week and had a stack of reading and nice smelling things which are already summarily being ignored. So what does a thirty eight year old woman do with herself, on the anniversary of her entrance into this world? Nothing that she doesn’t want to do, of course.  This includes knitting, binging on favourite teevee programs, and the hunting down and devouring of childhood treats.  Not a bad way to spend the first day of 38 – whether or not I anticipated being around for it.

We’re going to need a bigger boat. Er, cabinet.

perfumes copy

I seem to be outgrowing my (very sizable, I might add) perfume cabinet.  I suppose I need to either scale back on the fragrance purchases – Quelle horreur! – or look into alternate storage solutions.  And since I happen to have a few scented items already on their way to me from all over the globe, I fear the former is no longer an option.

Some recent acquisitions…

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Fille en Aiguilles from Serge Lutens reminds me of a rich, spiced fruit compote that is sweetly simmering on the stove, in a snow covered chalet on the longest, darkest night of the year. The sun has just gone down and the the door bangs open; a gust of icy wind tears through carrying the briefest scent of pine needles; guest are stamping their feet and blowing on their hands, everyone has red noses and chilled ears and they are gathering close to a hearth where a warm glow lights their faces. The sweet, spicy concoction on the stove has evaporated so there is no longer a syrupy fragrance, but instead the slightly smoky remains, the very essence of the fruit. To me Fille En Aiguilles smells of spiced fruit compote incense perfuming the close quarters and warming bodies, and light and memories of a cold night and beloved friends who warm your heart.

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Ether body butter by Naked Eye Beauty (sold through Sisters of the Black Moon); a lovely scent with bitter orange, ylang ylang, lavender and amber that, although a bit off-puttingly medicinal at first, dries down to a a subtly sweet, softly musky scent. It doesn’t sound enticing when I repeat what I told a friend – that it smells “like a stripper with a heart of gold”. But I mean that it in the nicest way.

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Various samples from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab’s Ars Moriendi line. Grave chic cemetery scents. We are going to bring the fragrance of the dead into fashion this summer.

 

The Trouble With My Mother

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My mother, who passed last December, is – technically speaking – very much with us.  In fact, she resides at the top of the closet of the guest room closet, at my sister’s house.

The sad truth of it is that my sisters and I have not come to a decision on what to do with her ashes, and as she left no will or final wishes, we are at a loss.

I loved my mother.  But she was a difficult woman.  A difficult human, rather – I am not sure it actually had anything to do with her being a woman. She was a recovering alcoholic and though being manipulative and selfish are part of an addict’s personality, I think she might have been that way even without the chemical addiction.  She was irresponsible, careless with her money, thoughtless.  She didn’t drive.  She was an animal hoarder.

And yet.

I loved her, I truly did.  I loved to talk about books and perfume and music with her.  I loved to listen to her curse and laugh, I loved to watch her eat a fish sandwich (she always wanted to eat the same thing, no matter which restaurant we dined in). I could be so incredibly angry with her but then we would just fall into our easy pattern of chatter and it would be forgotten.
My breath catches in my throat now, even as I am writing this, to think that I will never do any of these things with her again.  At least, not in this life.  Not as who we are to each other now.

However, in death she was nearly just as difficult as when she was living.  None of her affairs were in order. She had appointed none of us power of attorney or executor – something we should have pushed for, I realize – and she made no will and expressed no final wishes, except for one.  Being that we take in her two Himalayan cats (again, without regard to whether our living situations were amenable to an extra two animals).

Between the three of us, my sisters and I paid for her crematory costs (around $1700), we contacted the proper channels who might need to know of her passing, we cleaned up her rental home, and we divided amongst us some items that we wanted to keep to remember her.  She did not have much of value, but she certainly had a lot of stuff.

Now we are left with a cardboard box three quarters full of her earthly remains.  Human ashes are much heavier than you would expect them to be.  I remember my sister cradling the box as we walked somberly from the funeral home to our car in the parking lot.

“These are the arms that held me”, she wept softly, looking down at the box.

And so the box of our mother still sits, heavy with ashes and memories, at the top shelf of a guest room closet. Maybe five months is not long enough to sort out all of our feelings about her.  I suppose we have all the time we need, though.  She’s not going anywhere.

Eleven Twenty Two

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For most of my adult life I have dreamed of this house.  No matter where I am or how long I have been living there, it is always this particular place where my dreams begin and end. For good or ill, this is the spot that my subconscious must believe is home.

From the ages of eight through eighteen I lived in this house. Ten years. I don’t remember very well the home I lived in before this one, and all the places after have become a blur on my timeline, but this house, this time in my life is the foundation upon which my dreams build.

I can’t say it was much better looking than in this photo from a few day ago, but I’d like to think it was, just a little.

My sister, on her way to visit me last weekend, convinced her husband to drive through our old neighborhood.  As they slowed to pass our childhood home, it became clear to them that the house had been neglected for quite some time now, and once they stopped the car and walked up for a closer look they could see that it was indeed in foreclosure. My sister skirted the side of the house, peeking in windows, running her fingers along splintered doorframes.
The sliding glass door in back was ajar and without a second thought, she slipped inside.

I don’t know if I could have done that. My childhood, though incarnations of it show up in dreams on a regular basis, is something I’d like to leave behind.  I don’t know that I could have faced whatever ghosts lingered in those halls.  Worse, then, to feel nothing looking at the handprint stained walls, the kitchen from which I stole snacks while I read Harriet the Spy?  I don’t know and I don’t think I could bear to find out.

My sister is very brave, but I would rather hear the tale secondhand, and continue to dream of a place that used to exist, rather than see it for a faded and broken and beaten thing that no one wants anymore, never to appear in another little girl’s dreams.

 

Between one and another, every day is mine

Here we are again.  This started out as a very different sort of blog, but as circumstances changed, so too must the content of this blog.  This will no longer be a home for Death Cafe Orlando; though I have archived the previous posts should you wish to peruse them, for all new updates and items of relevance please find your way over >> h e r e<<

Well, and so – what to do?  In changing direction for this blog it has become clear to me that I’ve come full circle.  It’s been quite a while since I have maintained a personal blog  – for projects, stories, etc. – and I am realizing that I miss it very much. For the past few years it’s been important to me that I branch out and embrace new and different people, places and things…but in the doing so I have yearned for the simple familiarity of some former pursuits – such as the keeping of a daily (or semi-daily, or let’s face it, weekly or monthly) accounting of the things going on in my life.

In blithely tripping along the trail of the novel and exciting, I have somehow, without quite realizing it, arrived back at the start of the same well-worn, much loved path.  And you know, that is a fine place to be.

“If after I die, people want to write my biography, there is nothing simpler. They only need two dates: the date of my birth and the date of my death. Between one and another, every day is mine.”
-Fernando Pesso

The Art Of Death – Three Videos

Filmmakers Mark and Angela Walley follow photographer Sarah Sudhoff as she works on her series titled At the Hour of Our Death. In the series Sudhoff creates large-scale color photographs of stained fabrics from trauma scenes and discusses the invisibility of death in our culture. 

At the Hour of Our Death from Walley Films on Vimeo.

Good Grief is a short stop motion animated documentary that explores the lessons we learn from dealing with grief and loss. Five real people share their true stories of losing something precious and what it has taught them about living.

Made in 2012, Good Grief has screened at 19 festivals worldwide and won numerous awards. Inspired by the loss of her own mother and the grief that ensued, director Fiona Dalwood went about finding out how the experience of loss transforms us. With a shoestring budget and months of hard work, she made Good Grief, a beautiful short film that has been described as “adorable and heartfelt”. 

Good Grief from FiDalwood on Vimeo.

High school seniors at The Harley School in Rochester, New York, have the option of taking a class called “Hospice.” Most who sign up for it don’t know what they’re in for. And none of them forget the experience when it’s over.

David Marshall is an Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker who followed the hospice class for two years. In his documentary, Beginning with the End, the question Marshall seeks to answer is: Can empathy be taught?

Beginning with the End :90 Trailer from bspfilms on Vimeo.

ORLANDO’S FIRST DEATH CAFE – MAY 17, 2014

Greetings! Please join us at Orlando’s first Death Cafe for an open group discussion on all things death related. While death is inevitable, discussions about it are often taboo in American culture. We intend to open up the conversation on death in an an respectful and friendly atmosphere where people can express their views about death & dying and share engaging, thought provoking and life affirming conversation. Bring your questions and stories, your curiosity and experiences, but most of all – an open mind …and an appetite for cake and delicious treats!

Date: Saturday, May 17th, 2014
Times: 2PM-4PM EST
Location: To be held at a private location (residential, Winter Park FL)

This first meeting will be a small group, 10-12 people, and RSVP only.  Please contact us to reserve your spot!

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