Thursday Book Feature: The Imortalists

The Immortalists
Benjamin, Chloe.
Copyright 2018.

In 1969, four Jewish children in New York City visit a psychic who tells each one of them the day he or she will die. These children grow up, all the while aware of their predicted death dates. The two youngest, Simon and Clara, move to San Francisco, where Simon, who is gay, becomes a dancer, and Clara becomes a magician, marries, and has a child. The next youngest, Daniel, marries and becomes a doctor, and the oldest, Varia, becomes a scientist.

I read about this book on an email list. One thing I didn’t like was the author’s shift between present and past tense. She uses past tense mostly for flashbacks, but at times, I wasn’t sure if she was flashing back or in the present. As a writer myself, I prefer the use of past tense only with flashbacks perhaps told in the past imperfect tense.

Otherwise, I found this book fascinating. I like the way the author explores the question of to know or not to know when you’ll die. It also makes you wonder if those children’s lives would have been different if they hadn’t visited that psychic and heard her predictions of when they would die.

***

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
Like Me on Facebook.

***

September Wedding Dress

My wedding dress was mauve in color. Reaching to my ankles, it had long sleeves and a low neckline. My sister-in-law Kathleen bought it for me for my birthday.

In June of 2005, after my late husband Bill proposed to me, he was living in Fowler, Colorado, and I in Sheridan, Wyoming. Bill planned to move to Sheridan and marry me.

Meanwhile, I was visiting him in Fowler, where he’d planned a barbecue. Many of our family members and friends were invited, including my brother Andy and his family, who lived in New Mexico at the time.

Since hotel accommodations in Fowler were limited, Andy and his family stayed in Pueblo, about twenty-five miles west of Fowler. Kathleen and I went to a mall, where she helped me pick out the dress, a slip, bra, and shoes to match.

On the day of the wedding, September 10th, 2005, which was held in my grandmother’s back yard here in Sheridan, I paced the upstairs hall between the bathroom and my aunt’s old bedroom, thinking Kathleen had the dress with her at the motel where they were staying. Through the open bathroom window, I could hear guests arriving and music from the string duo my father hired for the occasion. As the time grew closer, I wondered if I’d be parading down the aisle in my underwear.

At almost the last minute, Andy and Kathleen arrived with the children. It was then that I discovered that the dress had been lying on my aunt’s bed all that time. Because of my limited vision, I hadn’t spotted it.

Later, as Dad escorted me down the aisle to the strains of Pachelbel’s Canon, I didn’t see Bill, either. Earlier, he’d planned to go with friends to The Mint Bar. Was he still there, or had he developed cold feet after having too many drinks? Of course he was totally blind, so he couldn’t have jumped in his car and hit the interstate in the direction of Colorado, but still… Then, there he was, in his green suit and the sunglasses he always wore, and I had no more worries.

My wedding dress still hangs in my closet. In January of 2006, three months after Bill and I were married, he suffered the first of two strokes that paralyzed his left side.  I cared for him at home until he passed in October of 2012. You can read our story in My Ideal Partner.

Now it’s your turn. Tell me about a specific article of clothing you remember. What did it look like? Where did you get it? Who do you associate with it? Can you remember some sort of conflict that happened, either while you were wearing the garment or that had something to do with it? Where is this article of clothing today?

If you have a blog, you can tell your story there and link to it here. If not, please share your story in the comment field. I look forward to hearing from you.

 

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.

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Thursday Book Feature: When Breath Becomes Air

When Breath Becomes Air

by Paul Kalanathi

Copyright 2016.

 

During the last year of his neurosurgical residency, Dr. Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. In this memoir, he shares his experiences in an attempt to help others. The book has a prolog, two parts, and an epilog.

In the prolog, Dr. Kalanathi shares how he and his wife Lucy learned of his diagnosis. In the first part, he talks about his life growing up in a small Arizona town, his interest in neuroscience, how he studied abroad before returning to the states and attending medical school at Yale.

In the second part, he shares his experiences as a neurosurgical resident at a San Francisco hospital, leading up to his diagnosis. He discusses his treatment and how he and Lucy conceived a child, despite his illness. He explains how he returned to his residency after treatment and completed it before he took a turn for the worst. He died before he could finish writing this book, so Lucy ties up loose ends in the epilog.

One thing I found disconcerting was the lack of dates. We know that Dr. Kalanathi died in March of 2015 and that he was diagnosed a couple of years earlier, but that’s it. I think it’s a good idea to insert dates throughout a memoir to orient the reader, and I do this in My Ideal Partner.

When Breath Becomes Air reminded me of when my mother was diagnosed with cancer in 1999. It was never known where the cancer originated. After six months of chemotherapy, she was given a good prognosis, but a couple of weeks later, she was gone. Dr. Kalanathi’s oncologist was reluctant at first to give him a prognosis. I can see why, I guess.

I liked Lucy’s description of her husband’s death in the epilog. He died in a hospital room, surrounded by his family, even his infant daughter. I felt guilty because my own husband died alone. Of course he wasn’t alert for the last few days of his life, and Dr. Kalanathi was, most of the time. Lucy’s concluding paragraphs emphasize something I’ve always believed. When you lose someone you love, you grieve, but where there’s love, even in death, life goes on.

 

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.

 

Jim, the Mischievous King

After reading the latest Chicken Soup for the Soul book, I was inspired to write my own canine tale. I doubt Chicken Soup for the Soul will publish any more dog books, since they already have two on the market, so I’ll post my dog story here.

***

In the spring of 1977 when I was a freshman in high school, and my younger brother Andy was in fourth grade, our family decided to get a dog. We were living in Sheridan, Wyoming. Before Andy was born, when we lived in Tucson, Arizona, we had a pooch that died as a result of Valley Fever, common in that part of the country. Despite the fact that we had two cats, my parents were now ready for another dog, and Andy and I liked the idea.

Mother found an advertisement in the newspaper announcing Irish setter puppies for sale. She called the woman who placed the ad and arranged for us to visit her and see the puppies.

The little dogs were in a box, and all except one were scratching and whining. The silent pooch sat in a corner, aloof. Mother said, “Oh, let’s see this little guy.”

She lifted him out of the box, and despite my limited vision, I could tell he had the sweetest face. He was red with floppy ears, which I immediately stroked and scratched, and he didn’t seem to mind.

“Let’s take him,” I said. The rest of the family agreed, and a week later, he was ours.

We debated what to call him. Dad, liking all things Irish, suggested Shem, the Irish name for Jim. Andy liked the name Clancy. Mother and I didn’t have a preference. We settled on Shem Shenanigan Clancy Leroy. Leroy was my grandfather’s name, and in Irish, it means king.

When we brought Clancy home, he was full of mischief and ruled his kingdom. When he wasn’t napping, he was running and playing with Andy inside the house and out, chewing on anything he could find, and antagonizing the cats. He eventually came to an understanding with our feline companions. Although they were never friends, they were civil toward one another.

In the summer, Mother enrolled Clancy in an obedience class for puppies. For Clancy, this was play time. At home alone, Mother was able to teach him to come, sit, and stay, but around the other dogs in the class, it was as if she hadn’t even tried to train him.

Andy tried training him with the girl next door, but that didn’t work, either. I suppose we could have hired a trainer like some of the authors in the Chicken Soup book did for their unruly dogs, but in the 1970’s, that wasn’t something to be considered.

Andy hoped that he and Clancy would be like Timmy and Lassie, but Clancy eventually became Dad’s dog, accompanying our father everywhere, even to the shop where he sold and serviced coin-operated machines. Clancy enjoyed riding in the back of Dad’s pick-up or in the station wagon with his head stuck out the window, eating air. This was before seat belt laws were enacted.

If Dad couldn’t take Clancy, he’d say, “not you.” With sad eyes, the dog would watch, as his master strode out the door. In Dad’s absence, Clancy would often follow Mother around, thinking she was responsible for Dad’s disappearance and that if he stayed by her side, she would magically make Dad appear.

Since the high school I attended wasn’t far from our home, Dad and Clancy often walked me there, through a park and up a hill. This was in the days before leash laws became more stringent, and Clancy ran free through the park, playing in a nearby creek while we walked. During the winter months, Dad drove me to school. At the top of the hill, where there wasn’t much traffic, he stopped and opened the rear passenger door, and Clancy jumped out and ran alongside the car the rest of the way.

Like any dog, Clancy enjoyed rolling in fish heads, cow pies, and anything else that stank. Andy tried hosing him off, but naturally, because the water was too cold, Clancy didn’t like that at all. Dad gave him a shower, which was a disaster, with water everywhere in the bathroom and Mother pissed. In those days, there was no such thing as a do-it-yourself dog wash, which is similar to a car wash and mentioned in the Chicken Soup book.

Despite his antics, Clancy was a lovable addition to our family for eleven years. He died suddenly in the summer of 1988, one of the hottest on record. By that time, my parents were separated, and Dad lived in a house halfway across town. I’d just completed a music therapy internship in Fargo, North Dakota, and was staying with Mother in our family home. Andy had graduated from high school two years earlier and was off somewhere for the summer.

One hot night, Dad let Clancy out so he could do his business, and the dog wandered off. He was found dead the next day by the creek near Grandma’s house. Here’s what I think happened.

Since Dad didn’t have air conditioning, Clancy was hot and wanted to get somewhere cooler. In gest, Dad always called him a dummy, but that dog had some smarts. For years, he’d been driven, along with the rest of the family, to Grandma’s house, which was air conditioned. He knew it was cooler, and he knew how to get there.

Unfortunately, Grandma was hard of hearing by that time. Upstairs in her bedroom, perhaps with the television on full blast, she didn’t hear Clancy scratching at either the front or back doors. When he couldn’t get into Grandma’s house, Clancy knew the next coolest place was the creek, so he went there. He no doubt passed as a result of heat stroke.

Dad said Clancy could have lived longer. Several years later after he moved to another house and acquired a second Irish setter, he bought a window air conditioner. That’s another story.

***

Why don’t you tell me about a pet you had when you were growing up? If you have a blog, you can post your story there and a link to it in the comment field here. If not, you can just share your memories. I look forward to hearing from you.

***

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 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.

 

Review: Until I Say Goodbye

Abbie-1

Until I Say Goodbye: My Year of Living with Joy

 

by Susan Spencer-Wendel

Copyright 2013.

 

“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” The author uses this quote from Dr. Seuss in her bestselling memoir where she details one year of her life after being diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease. People with this condition can live for years with a ventilator and other equipment, but this journalist for The Palm Beach Post and mother of three in Florida decided to quit her job, live with joy, and not try to prolong her life.

She talks about how she spent a year traveling with family and friends: to the Yukon to see the northern lights with her best friend, a cruise on the Caribbean with her sister, a trip to Budapest, Hungary, with her husband John to re-live their years together there, a visit to her deceased birth father’s family in Cypress, a trip to New York City with her teen-aged daughter, who tried on wedding dresses for an event her mother would never witness, and other family vacations. She also explains how and why she got permanent make-up and arranged for a hut to be built in the family’s back yard.

She provides plenty of back story about her life growing up with her adoptive parents and how she met and married John and the adventures they had before settling down with their family in Florida. She discusses meeting her birth mother in California and learning about her birth father and how this affected her relationship with her adoptive mother. She describes how she wrote this book on her iPhone, since her hands were too weak to use even an iPad keyboard.

I like the way she ends the book by spelling out her children’s names as if she were typing them on her iPhone and then inserting the quote by Dr. Seuss. In this way, she leaves readers with the impression that a loved one’s death shouldn’t be a sad occasion. According to an Associated Press article, she stayed alive until September of this year. I wish my late husband had lived long enough to read this book. Maybe Susan Spencer-Wendel’s account of how she tapped out her story on her iPhone with one finger might have inspired him to write My Ideal Partner with me.

Several years ago, I suggested we write a book together, detailing his strokes and rehabilitation and my experiences with caregiving. Because this would have been tough for him, only able to type with one hand, I suggested, half in jest, that I tap the keys on the left side of the computer and he tap the ones on the right. In answer, he said, “I’d rather do this on the piano with you.”

“Never mind,” I told myself after he passed. “I’ll write my own book.” And I did.

***

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.

 

Bill’s Birthday

Abbie-1

Bill would have been seventy-four years old today. I wrote the following poem four years ago on his birthday while he was in the nursing home almost two weeks before he passed. It appears in my new book, My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds. Click on the title to hear me read it.

***

BIRTHDAY

Gray hair against white pillow,

lips caress my cheek,

his good arm encircles my shoulder.

The odor of peanut butter

scent of his shampoo comfort me.

Seventy years old today, he says he loves me,

kiss soft against my cheek,

as we hold each other,

for who knows how long.

***

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.