Posts Tagged ‘death’
March 27, 2014 | by Laurel Holland
Every spring my mother flies out from her home in Walla Walla, Washington, to spend ten days with me in New York. Because her visits are often the only uninterrupted stretch of time we have together every year, they go mostly unplanned. “It isn’t vacation if you have to plan!” Mom has been known to say.
But when she made her way East in May 2012, just after my twenty-ninth birthday, her trip had an explicit purpose. It was my father’s fortieth reunion at Colby College, and she and I would be attending in his stead to represent his legacy and all that he had left behind.
In April 1989, at the age of thirty-nine, my father, Bill Holland, disappeared in an ice climbing accident in Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada. While he was attempting an unroped descent off Slipstream—the three-thousand-foot frozen waterfall that runs along the treacherous east face of Mt. Snow Dome—he fell through a cornice of ice and, as the accident reports later concluded, likely into a crevasse. A subsequent weeklong storm system dumped an estimated thirty feet of snow in the area, delaying initial rescue attempts. By the time a search party could safely enter, the snowfall had been so significant that Parks Canada was eventually forced to abandon recovery efforts. My father was never found. Read More »
March 13, 2014 | by Paul Kalanithi
Remembering Sherwin Nuland, the author of How We Die, who died last week.
I attended the Yale School of Medicine when Shep Nuland taught there, and despite our both being surgeons, I know him best in my capacity as a reader. I don’t recall when I first read How We Die—I was just finishing high school when it came out—but I do know that few books I had read so directly and wholly addressed that fundamental fact of existence: all organisms, whether goldfish or grandchild, die. His description of his grandmother’s illness showed me how the personal, medical, and spiritual all intermingled. As a child, Nuland would play a game in which he indented her skin to see how long it took to resume its shape—a part of the aging process that, along with her newfound shortness of breath, showed her “gradual slide into congestive heart failure … the significant decline in the amount of oxygen that aged blood is capable of taking up from the aged tissues of the aged lung.”
But “what was most evident,” he continued, “was the slow drawing away from life… By the time Bubbeh stopped praying, she had stopped virtually everything else as well.” With her fatal stroke, Shep Nuland remembers Browne’s Religio Medici: “With what strife and pains we come into the world we know not, but ’tis commonly no easy matter to get out of it.” Read More »
March 6, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Sherwin B. Nuland, the author of How We Die, is dead.
- In Los Angeles, a group of ghost hunters are chasing the dead.
- The punk ethos of the Lower East Side is dead.
- The Dutch anatomist Frederik Ruysch died in 1731, but his deathly sketches still haunt us today: “not only did he exalt the human anatomy as a wondrous product of creation, but he presented himself as a veritable artist of death.”
- On the eastern seaboard, the hemlock is dying out. Though the tree bears only a superficial resemblance to the plant that killed Socrates, “it seems impossible to separate the hemlock tree from the hemlock plant’s poison, for a poet to keep the death of Socrates out of the picture—for death is in the forest, especially a hemlock forest, especially now.”
February 11, 2014 | by Diane Mehta
The deceptively breezy poems of Stevie Smith.
Stevie Smith’s playful, carnivalesque poems, tiny on the page but emotionally trenchant, are getting a new life—her Best Poems were reissued in December.
It’s high time. Smith’s work has been nearly forgotten, her books having fallen out of print. She is not, on the surface, tenderly lyrical or feminist enough to court contemporary readers. Born in England in 1902, she enjoyed some popularity in the sixties for oddball performances of her poems, which she often sang, or read with spooky dramatic flair, but she might just have been too original, or too variegated, for any one school of poetry to champion her work. Perhaps she has also been dismissed because she comes off as cold and hard, a person of uncertain likeability: her so-called comic verse roils with death wishes and sneering attacks on other poets. (“Let all the little poets be gathered together in classes / And let prizes be given to them by the Prize Asses,” she says in “To School!”) She has been put in with Blake, Coleridge, and Emily Dickinson. Fine company, but Smith is far more varied, unfettered, and disenchanted than all that. Her lines have scope. They contain a high-low mix of childlike diction, plain speech, formal rhymes, and heroic couplets, with a register that ricochets between folk tunes, hymnals, liturgy, nursery rhymes, and lyrical verse. She deliberately set many poems to the tunes of hymns, and sang them as such. Given all the wit and intellect that animate her poetry, why has she been forgotten?
A profoundly independent and, by all accounts, slightly peculiar woman, Smith—born Florence Margaret, and only later Stevie—lived in the same house in North London from the time she was three until her death, taking care of an aunt she treasured, without the need to insert a proper man or children into her life. She worked as a secretary in the women’s magazine business for her entire career, which perhaps is why, in her poems and in her letters, she tilts to seeing women as acutely silly. She avoided serious relationships, settling instead into easily reciprocated, caring friendships and a familial bond with her aunt. Read More »
January 30, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Will Mary R., of Sunbury, Pennsylvania, please oblige me by giving her method of cultivating heliotrope, as it is one of my favorites, and I can never succeed in raising it. I have over two hundred plants in my parlor and sitting-room windows, and not one heliotrope.
I have a beautiful black goat named Dan, and a complete set of silver-plated harness … Dan will not allow any boy to come near him, but he loves me dearly, and I love him. I am eleven years old.
I and my brother used to have such good times fishing on these lakes in our canoes, and hunting deer in the woods, but now I am so lonely, for my only brother is dead. He went out in the woods to hunt deer, and got lost, and froze to death.
I am a subscriber to Young People, and although I am not one of the “little folks,” I find the Post-office Box very interesting, as I am very fond of children and of pets. I have a bright, intelligent pony, a Mexican dog four years old that does not weigh more than two pounds, a mocking-bird, canaries, and a lot of fancy pigeons, and two aquaria filled with fish.
In my letter printed in Young People No. 62 I intended to say that I would exchange postmarks, not for other postmarks, but for stamps and minerals. I regret that I made the mistake.
I am very much interested in “Toby Tyler” and “Mildred’s Bargain.”
I spent one summer at Cape May, and there I found a turtle that was so tame it would eat out of my hand, and drink out of a tea-spoon. I fed it on raw meat, soaked bread, and worms, but it ran away.
January 9, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Some critics and readers have felt that you spoke about old age in an unpleasant way.
A lot of people didn’t like what I said because they want to believe that all periods of life are delightful, that children are innocent, that all newlyweds are happy, that all old people are serene. I’ve rebelled against such notions all my life, and there’s no doubt about the fact that the moment, which for me is not old age but the beginning of old age, represents—even if one has all the resources one wants, affection, work to be done—represents a change in one’s existence, a change that is manifested by the loss of a great number of things. If one isn’t sorry to lose them it’s because one didn't love them. I think that people who glorify old age or death too readily are people who really don’t love life. Of course, in present-day France you have to say that everything’s fine, that everything’s lovely, including death.
—Simone de Beauvoir, the Art of Fiction No. 35