The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘funerals’

Death and All Her Friends

August 22, 2016 | by


I had to bury a dog in my backyard yesterday. She was a light brown mongrel and came up to about my knee—not huge, but not tiny, either. She showed up in the neighborhood a few months ago and gave birth to a couple of puppies under a neighbor’s water tank. She came around my house a few times and I fed her, so she and the puppies mostly hung around. A few days ago, she went off somewhere and came back with a wound. We tried to patch her up as best we could, and she seemed to be stabilizing, but eventually she died on the lawn, which had been stained violet from the iodine antiseptic.

But now I had to figure out what to do with her. I chose a spot at the back of the house, between the protruding roots of an old, flamboyant tree, right next to what’s now a well-fertilized plantain crop. (Years ago, one of my brothers, not grasping the reality of the situation, excitedly reported that our neighbor had “planted” one of his dead puppies.) With a rusty hoe and a crooked fork, I managed to loosen the stony ground before digging a hole a couple feet deep. I cut open an old flour bag, wrapped her in it, and lowered her in. There were no last rites, but I did mark her grave with a few pieces from the trunk of a fallen coconut tree. Read More »

Thomas Hardy’s Letters Will Ruin Your Day

June 2, 2016 | by

Have a bad day.

Are you enjoying yourself at the moment? Please stop. It’s Thomas Hardy’s birthday, and he will wipe the smile right off your smug, contented, life-affirming face. You’re dealing with a man who knew how to deploy the word Niflheim, defined by the OED as “the region of eternal darkness, mist, and cold inhabited by those who died from old age or illness.” Hardy uses it to dispirited perfection in The Woodlanders, relating a kind of failure to connect: “But he continued motionless and silent in that gloomy Niflheim or fog-land which involved him, and she proceeded on her way.” Actually, The Woodlanders is full of an evocative, despondent murkiness. It extends even to the tiny twigs on the ground, which Hardy takes care to describe as they’re destroyed by a passing carriage: “they drove on out of the grove, their wheels silently crushing delicate-patterned mosses, hyacinths, primroses, lords-and-ladies, and other strange and common plants, and cracking up little sticks that lay across the track.”

But I’ve already digressed. I’m writing mainly to share a few excerpts from his letters that find him at his morose peak (nadir?). As a kind of warm-up, here’s a note from 1898 in which he critiques a prime minister’s funeral—always an exercise in good taste. Read More »

Just Read the Book Instead, and Other News

May 31, 2016 | by

A still from Doctor Thorne.

  • Hot take: There’s a new miniseries adaptation of Trollope’s Doctor Thorne, and it’s not good. Just follow Laura Miller’s lead and read the book instead: “Seemingly everything that happens today has already been covered in one of [Trollope’s] books, albeit in a less technologized form … The resemblance between particular current events and Trollope’s fiction is like the weather: however much it changes from day to day, in one form or another, it’s always there. His novels amount to a compendium of every recurring pattern of human behavior as observed by a wise, amused, and tenderly exacting deity. He sees all our little self-delusions and vanities, but he loves us just the same. In fact, sometime they make him love us more.”

Memento Mori

March 10, 2016 | by

This painting and below: E. B. Roberts, Series of Salesman Samples for Memorials, 1929, enamel on board,  20" x 24". From a series of thirty-three paintings. Images courtesy Ricco/Maresca Gallery.

Trawling through eBay recently, I came across a folder of sample funeral cards from the early twentieth century. As near as I can tell, salesmen would roam from funeral home to funeral home peddling these to undertakers, who would in turn press them on bereaved families. They were standard thank-you notes, essentially—“The family of _________ will hold in grateful remembrance your Spiritual Bouquet and kind expression of sympathy”—but unattached to any death in particular, their messages were gauche, even funny. That they were framed in advertising copy didn’t help. Imagine: Someone you love dies, and before you can even pick out the announcement cards, you have to read sentences like “Genuine engraving achieves its inherent beauty from a correlation of width and depth which no other process possesses.” As a character in Terry Southern’s The Loved One says: “Death has become a middle-class business. There’s no future in it.” Read More »

“We Want You to Eat More Pies,” and Other News

December 4, 2014 | by


The Orwell in Wigan, a town in Lancashire.

  • In the sixty-five years since Orwell’s death, his reputation has only grown, spawning a cottage industry for Orwell tourism. “The strangest place associated with Orwell is Wigan, the town in Lancashire where he stayed in February 1936 … one of the warehouses by the canal, opposite National Tyres and Autocare, has been converted into The Orwell, which offers weddings and civil ceremonies from £900. The local specialty is meat pies. Outside the pub a poster shows Uncle Sam holding out a pie, with the slightly Big Brotherish message: ‘We want you to eat more pies.’ ”
  • “Adrift on warm currents, no longer of this world, she became aware of him gliding into her … The universe was in her and with each movement it unfolded to her. Somewhere in the night a stray rocket went off.” The long-awaited winner of this year’s Bad Sex in Fiction Award.
  • A bunch of prominent scholars are bickering about the possibility that Shakespeare was gay. “Such figments of the critic’s imagination not only produce quantities of waste paper but … are inimical to the proper reading of poetry,” one wrote.
  • And while we’re being litigious: the Maurice Sendak estate is embroiled in a debate about his will, which stipulates that his house in Ridgefield, Connecticut—where, two years after his death, his slippers still sit next to his bed—become a study center and museum. “I really don’t know who’s going to go there,” his longtime British editor said. “It’s in the middle of nowhere.”
  • A new book of photographs “reveals the British West Indian experience of death in all its pathos, occasional comedy, and life-affirming sense of the funeral as essentially a fun-for-all … In [Charlie] Phillips’s moving and often beautiful images, dating from 1962 to the present, the bereaved are seen to face the mystery of the end of life in stush black suits, spidery hat veils, Rastafari head-ties, spiffy trilbies and strictly-come-dancehall white socks.”



May 14, 2014 | by


Detail view of works from the exhibition “Sophie Calle : Absence,“ Paula Cooper Gallery, New York, 2013; photo: Steven Probert; © 2014 Sophie Calle /Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York /ADAGP, Paris. Courtesy of Sophie Calle; Paula Cooper Gallery and Galerie Perrotin

Sophie Calle’s “Rachel/Monique” is currently on view at the Church of the Heavenly Rest on upper Fifth Avenue, a ZIP code the artist says the eponymous subject—her mother—would have appreciated, “because she always loved the Upper East Side.” The show, which wrests with the life and death of the woman most often known as Monique Sindler, is full of things she would have liked. Indeed, she liked being the subject of one of her daughter’s works. As Calle writes,

My mother liked to be the object of discussion. Her life did not appear in my work, and that annoyed her. When I set up my camera at the foot of the bed in which she lay dying—I wanted to be present to hear her last words, and was afraid that she would pass away in my absence—she exclaimed: “Finally!”

The space itself is austerely beautiful, and the show’s installation complements the neo-Gothic confines of the chapel—they’ll continue to hold services for the duration of its run. Madame Sindler’s last words were “Don’t worry,” and that last one—souci—is a motif throughout, wrought in a lace hanging, written out in multicolored butterflies on a stone wall, represented by a bouquet—since the word also means “marigold” in French. The prettiness is disarming, but not necessarily misleading. There is no distinction made between prettiness and toughness, prettiness and the macabre, prettiness and death, even. Read More »