Memoir Offers Insights on Death

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: and Other Lessons from the Crematory

By Caitlin Doughty

Copyright 2014.

 

This author, with a degree in medieval history, a star of the online video series, Ask a Mortician, shares the first few years of her experiences working in the death industry. She starts with her first job as a crematory operator in San Francisco, explaining in detail the cremation process and how she was the one to do the actual cremating. She also describes going with another employee to collect bodies and observing the embalming process.

She then talks about how she eventually moved to Los Angeles where she attended a mortician school and became certified. After another job collecting bodies, she gained employment as a funeral director. She also shares her disillusionment with embalming and other techniques used to make a corpse look natural before a viewing. She suggests taking responsibility for what happens to you when you die.

She also talks about her life growing up in Hawaii and how she took an interest in death after seeing a child fall from a second-story balcony of a shopping mall. She touches on the history of death and how other cultures deal with it. In the end, she relates the details of her grandmother’s passing. Her story begins in the morning at the San Francisco crematory and ends at night in a nearby cemetery.

Because of my experiences with death over the years, I was fascinated by some of her stories and horrified by others. Despite the grimness of the subject, I found myself laughing at some of her anecdotes.

When she described shaving a corpse for the first time, I was reminded of the time I saw my late husband Bill’s body at the nursing home before he was taken away. Shaving him was far from my mind, as I stroked his hair and talked to him for the last time.

When Doughty described picking up bodies at hospitals, nursing homes, and people’s homes, I thought of the two people from the funeral home who came to pick up Bill. Soft-spoken, the woman assured me they would take good care of him. When I asked about arrangements, the man said someone would contact me. You can learn more about my experiences with Bill’s death in My Ideal Partner.

When I started reading this book, I was afraid of death, and I still am. I didn’t think Caitlin Doughty could explain what it’s like to die. Nobody really can. Once you find out, there’s no way to tell others.

My brother, a physicist, once said that when you die, you simply don’t exist anymore, but what is that like? When pets die, they are said to have crossed a “rainbow bridge.” Christians believe that when you die, you see Jesus and are reunited with loved ones passed.

I would like to think that when my time comes, I will cross a rainbow bridge and be reunited with Bill, but what if that’s not the case? What if you’re aware of what is happening to you after you die?

What if Bill heard the last loving words I said to him including my promise to see him on the other side someday. What if he knew he was being wrapped in a shroud, strapped to a gurney, transported to the funeral home, and placed in a refrigerator?

Both my parents were cremated. What if they felt the pain of the flames, as their bodies were being burned until there was nothing left but bones?

If you or your family chooses to have a viewing, necessitating an embalming, what if you feel the instruments cutting into the artery on your neck and into your abdomen to drain blood and other internal fluids and infuse chemicals that make you look more natural? Of course lying in a grave for eternity could be boring but certainly better than burning or being stabbed.

I hope I don’t die for a long time, and maybe when I do, someone will know something. In the meantime, this book is a great start to understanding what can happen to your body after you die.

***

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

Memoir Portrays Mother-Daughter Relationships

Glitter and Glue: A Memoir

By Kelly Corrigan

Copyright 2014

 

In the 1990’s soon after graduating from college, Kelly Corrigan set off on a trip around the world in search of adventure. Broke in Australia, she found a job as a nanny for a widower’s two children, ages five and seven. In the five months she spent with the family, she learned what it’s like to be a mother and not to have a mother and about her relationship with her own mother.

She describes caring for the children, the little boy who immediately accepted her, and the little girl who was aloof at first. She also explains how she developed friendships with the widower’s step-son and father-in-law, often flashing back to her own childhood, how her mother viewed parenthood as something that had to be done while her father was more affectionate.

After returning to the states, she moved from her home in the East to San Francisco, found a job, and eventually got married and had two daughters. She talks about her relationship with her daughters, a time when she thought she would lose her mother, and her own cancer scares.

I’ve never been on a trip around the world and doubt I’ll do that now, but it was fun to read about Kelly Corrigan’s adventures. She tells a great story about mother-daughter relationships but also delivers a powerful message. You never really know what you had until it’s gone. This Mother’s Day, whether your mothers are living or not, I hope you’ll take time to appreciate them.

***

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

Anthology Knits Life Through Poetry and Prose

Walking by Inner Vision: Stories & Poems

by Lynda McKinney Lambert

Copyright 2017

 

This collection starts with a prologue in which the author, who is also an artist, describes how knitting sustained her during difficult times after she lost most of her vision in 2007. The poetry and prose that follow are divided into twelve sections, one for each month of the year. Some pieces reflect the time of year while others discuss the author’s faith in God, nature, art, music, and other topics.

In “Harbingers,” Lynda reflects on the ground hog and other species that predict when spring with come and signal its arrival. In “William’s Red Roses,” she reminisces about a rose bush her father gave her. In “A Visitation from Butterflies,” she describes a miraculous event that occurred while her daughter was in a medically induced coma following cancer surgery.

My favorite piece is “A Wintry Tale” because it reminds me of many tumbles I took in the snow when I was younger due to my lack of vision. I believe Lynda was still sighted at the time of this story, so I found that refreshing. My second favorite is “A Pennsylvania Christmas” because it brings back memories of my own childhood Christmases, even though I’ve never received coal in my stocking.

I’ve known Lynda for years through our association with Behind Our Eyes, a not-for-profit organization for writers with disabilities. I’ve always been amazed by how, despite her sight loss, her appreciation of art and nature comes through in her vivid descriptions. Even if you have normal vision, this book will open your eyes, ears, and heart to life’s wonders.

***

Note: Since Lynda invited me to guest post on her blog several years ago, I returned the favor, and she graciously agreed. Her post will appear on May 16th, so stay tuned.

***

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

News from Abbie’s Corner April 2017

March has been a pretty quiet month. On the 2nd, I had an opportunity to hear pianist Andre Bohren at the Wyo Theater. On the 4th, I planned to attend a performance of Swan Lake at Sheridan College’s Whitney Center for the Arts, but I got a bad cold and decided to stay home. I’d already purchased a ticket but was able to give it to a friend who enjoyed the performance.

On the 18th, my singing group, Just Harmony, performed at an event at the local Methodist church they called a spudtacular. For dinner, there were baked potatoes with a variety of toppings plus salads and ice cream for dessert. We were the first to sing, followed by a group of kids who sang Irish songs, accompanying themselves on flute, guitar, and drum.

Besides a reading by former state poet laureate Rose Hill, a dear friend and church member, the event included a drawing for door prizes. I ended up with a mug that says, “Chocolate, always the answer.” So what’s the question? I guess it’s chocolate.

I gave two solo performances this month: on the 24th at Greenhouse and on the 28th at Westview. I’ll be at Sugarland Ridge for a birthday social on April 7th and Westview again on the 25th.

Since April is National Poetry Month, my Third Thursday Poets will give a reading on the 20th. We’re in the process of producing a chapbook to benefit the senior center, and this will be launched during our event. On April 29th, I’ll attend a poetry workshop in Buffalo, Wyoming, about thirty miles south of Sheridan, sponsored by WyoPoets.

Since we had a lot of rain in March, I was inspired to sing a medley of songs about rain at my solo performances. I’ll sing it again for you.

I’m using a different platform to post my audio files. If you have trouble with the player, please let me know in the comments field, and I’ll paste a link there that should work. If enough people have trouble with the player, I can use the link instead, so please don’t be afraid to share your thoughts on this subject or any other for that matter. Happy spring.

***

***

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

Memoir Depicts Empowerment through Travel

It’s Already Tomorrow Here: Never Estimate the Power of Running Away

By Lucetta Zaytoun

Copyright 2016

 

After leaving an abusive marriage with her two young children, Lucetta Zaytoun opened a bakery in North Carolina. She then met and married her second husband, a widower with four children, gave up her bakery, and became a stay-at-home wife and mother, happy to help raise six children and adopting a boy from Africa. In 2010, after her second husband left her for another woman, the children grown and scattered across the country, inspired by Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, she put everything she owned in storage, sold her car, shut down her phone, and traveled for a year in an attempt to find herself.

She spent the first three months in Costa Rica, learning Spanish and becoming certified to teach English as a second language. After a brief visit home, she spent another three months in Tanzania, Africa, volunteering with a women’s empowerment center. She spent the rest of the year traveling through Africa and Asia before flying to Hawaii to meet her daughter.

Along the way, she describes such experiences as living with a host family in Costa Rica, camping in the jungle in Tanzania, kissing a giraffe in Kenya, bungee jumping and mountain climbing in South Africa, and spending time with her son in Thailand. While relating her adventures in Africa, she flashes back to her childhood during the 1970’s when schools were desegregated and reflects on that, compared to Apartheid. During one instance when she’s comforting an African woman with a dead baby, she shares her own experience with losing a child during her first marriage. In the end, she describes getting off a plane in Hawaii, where a customs official welcomed her home.

I was drawn to this book by an interview with the author in the March issue of Poets and Writers. I was lucky to find a recording of her reading this book on Audible. I enjoyed hearing her relate her adventures. She made me laugh one minute and angry the next.

However, I couldn’t help wondering how long this would go on. What if she put off deciding what to do with the rest of her life indefinitely? Would she travel the world forever in search of herself? It was a relief when she landed in Hawaii.

I would like to have known more. According to her website, Lucetta Zaytoun is a certified life coach, but how did she get to that point after landing in Hawaii? Did she immediately return home or travel some more? An epilog would have answered many questions. Otherwise, this is a great book for anyone in the mood for some armchair traveling and perhaps a little soul searching.

***

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

Of Falling Silver and Glass

Late one night while I was emptying my dishwasher, a couple of forks slipped out of my grasp and hit the floor with a loud clang. Normally, I would have been annoyed, since I was anxious to get this done and get to bed. However, I found myself laughing hysterically, struggling not to wet my pants. I thought back to a similar situation years ago in a different kitchen.

In 1988, I was attending the Wyoming Lions Summer School for the Visually Impaired on Casper Mountain. After supper one night, I volunteered, or was chosen, for dish duty. After accumulating a neat pile of dry plastic glasses, I was reaching for a wet one when my arm brushed the pile hard enough to set it off balance. Glasses flew everywhere, hitting the floor with a loud clatter.

The normal human reaction in this situation is to be mortified, but having always enjoyed the sound of disaster, it was all I could do to keep a straight face, especially since others were laughing. The staffer in charge of the kitchen knew I’d just completed a music therapy internship. Not known for a sense of humor, he said, “Is that what you trained for at Villa Maria?”

I should have said, “No, I trained as a music therapist, not a dishwasher.” At the time, I couldn’t say anything, speechless as I was with mirth.

Isn’t it frustrating when you think of something you could have said in a particular situation? Of course that’s better than regretting something you said but still…

So what’s the point of this post? Again, I’m speechless with mirth and have no idea. Maybe years from now, I’ll have a better answer to that question.

***

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

His

While working on music I’ll sing next week at Greenhouse, I decided to perform a song I hadn’t sung in years, Vera Lynn’s “Yours.” As I was practicing this, I realized that I feel the same way as the woman in the song. This was popular in 1941, so I think it’s safe to assume that the woman is singing this about her loved one fighting overseas during World War II, wondering if he will return and knowing that even if he doesn’t, she’ll always love him and no one else.

My husband Bill isn’t fighting overseas. He left this world four years ago and isn’t coming back. I’ll always be his and could never love another man. Please click this link to hear me sing the song.

***

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.