Happy Impending Death Day!

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Our culture doesn’t do so well with death. We don’t like to talk about it or even think about it.

Except for people who were born and raised in Maine. We’re more down-to-earth types who treat death like it’s a bad dentist appointment. Yeah it’s gonna happen to you one day so you might as well suck it up, deal with it, and move on.

My 80-year-old mother cheerfully sat down with me last week to go over her old family photo albums again because, “I might not be here tomorrow.” She has told me this every single day for about 15 years.

Anytime I try to plan something with her, she gives the same response.

“Hey, Mom! Want to drive up to Bar Harbor and see the ocean this August?”

“Sure! But I might be dead by then.”

“Hey Mom! Wanna go to L.L. Bean’s with me this weekend?”

“Sure! But I might be dead by then.”

“Hey, Mom! Want to go out to dinner tonight at that Italian place?”

“Sure!”

“What — you’re not planning on dying later today?”

“Well, I’m hoping I die during the meal. Serves them right. They don’t serve Sanka. What kind of a place doesn’t have Sanka?”

So once again last week we sat down to sift through old family pictures because she might die at any second.  Her albums are full of faded sepia toned photos displaying the typically stern, emotionless faces of my relatives from the early 1900s.

I’m convinced the photographer must have yelled out the directions, “Frown! Frown harder! Look miserable! You’re sullen! No, I need more sullen! Dour! Do dour! Great! Hold that pose! Yes! You’re sad! Profoundly sad! Hold it! Hooold it! Perfect!”

Basketball is just so 'meh'. (My grandfather is the particularly ecstatic boy sitting in the front to the left)
(My grandfather is the particularly ecstatic boy sitting in the front to the left)

And most of my relatives died young of a horrible disease.  It’s a miracle I exist at all. My mother points her shaky finger to every person in the photo, tells me his or her name and how they died like she’s rattling off her grocery list.

“This is Charlie, died of tuberculosis. He was 35.”

“This is Charlotte. She died of tuberculosis. She was 15 years old.”

“Oh, and this is Sarah. Died of tuberculosis. She was four.”

“What happened to the dog?” I ask. “Please tell me he made it at least.”

Welcome to the early 20th century when even the dogs looked depressed. (My grandfather is the one holding the dog)
Welcome to the early 20th century when even the dogs looked depressed. (My grandfather is the one holding the dog)

After a few more photo albums filled with tuberculosis, my mom likes to throw in a zinger, probably to see if I’m really listening.

“Oh! And this is your great-great uncle Fred,” she smiles brightly and points to a handsome young man sporting a snappy blazer and smoking a cigarette.  “He was a pilot and flew his plane straight into the side of a mountain, killed instantly.”

“Wait — are you sure it wasn’t tuberculosis that got him?”

“Darla!” she scowls at me. Then she clears her throat. “Well, actually yes. The coughing is what made him crash the plane.”

My eyes bug out.

“I’m kidding! Kidding! Oh no, the poor man just slammed straight into a mountain! Boom! Never had a chance!” my mom yells, throws her head back and cackles.

And they say death isn’t funny.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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210 thoughts on “Happy Impending Death Day!

  1. This was brilliant. That needs to be said first. And second, I’m just amazed that Sanka still exists. I thought it died in that plane crash when it was attempting to flee the tuberculosis epidemic.

    1. Well that’s an honest mistake. But no — at first they thought Sanka cured tuberculosis but it wasn’t until the mid-1950s when they realized Sanka’s main ingredient was tuberculosis.

    1. And for us Mainers, death is a nonstop goldmine of comedy. I work at a doctor’s office and was talking with an elderly 93-year-old patient and her daughter. She laughed and said to me, “Go ahead and order that lab work on me but I can’t promise you I’ll still be alive by the time you get the results.” Oh we all had such a laugh at that! (seriously, we all laughed)

  2. Ah yes, the elderly and their lamenting over impending death! I remember Christmases as a child were always peppered with the elderly relatives and their chants of “I expect this will be my last Christmas.” Although of course, one by one, they were right!

  3. She sounds just like my grandmother (only my grandmother lived in Arkansas). Instead of tuberculosis, however, I have a suspicious number of ancestors who died by falling down a well.

  4. My mom does the thing with the photos. And I can’t count how many family gatherings I’ve attended because “it might be Auntie’s last…” (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Birthday….)

    1. What’s really funny is I’m at the age where about 99% of the people in all her albums are dead. She’s the only one left. All my grandparents are dead, my father’s dead, so are most of my uncles and aunts. Makes for real quick family reunions.

      1. regbrett

        Great blog. Make sure you get the names of the people in the pictures. Like you my grandparents are dead (of tuberculosis?) and I have a pile of pictures with no names, some of them go back to the civil war years. My dad has no clue as to who the people in the pictures are. I think your mom is trying to tell you something important.

    2. I’m right there with you! And what a disappointment, they are still there the next year and your mother says once again. You really should go, it might be the last year for Uncle Emil. Sadly, eventually it is. But they had a good run getting you there every year.

  5. Treasure your moments, because … well, you know. Have you written down her stories? Better yet, record them out video them. I did and was very glad I wrote them down. Later, after she died, I wrote a story off her life that includes Mighty Joe Young, WWII, and – yes – tuberculosis.

    1. I plan on reading my blog posts at my mom’s funeral. But seriously, my mom has written down lots of things about my family history, people’s names and ages and occupations and I’m glad she did because I can’t even remember what I had for breakfast this morning.

  6. Hilarious!

    Loving the bow that a couple of the girls are rocking, and multi-function being used as a hair piece or a decorative neck tie, if the photo was recent then the dog would be wearing one too

    1. I can only imagine the story behind the big bow in that girl’s hair. Her mom probably yelled at her: “You are NOT wearing that ridiculous bow for this photograph! You look like a hussy! Take it off this instant!” and then the girl whined “But Mother! All the cool kids are wearing them!”

  7. Pingback: Happy Impending Death Day! | ugiridharaprasad

  8. LOVE IT! My mother always says “It is in your best interest to keep me alive.” Apparently, she doesn’t spend her whole monthly income, so it is in the savings account, growing for when she dies and we get it. Mainers are a pragmatic lot. 🙂

    1. Oh yeah, pragmatic. My mom has already told me and my brothers who will get what piece of furniture. She acts like death is similar to going on a cruise. I must say this is a good attitude to have and I’m slowly getting there myself. It’s going to happen whether we want it to or not, so might as well be as prepared as you can be.

      1. Exactly! And the more she can sort out to avoid the family fighting, the better! My grandmother had stickers on most everything with the name of the daughter who was to get it. My mother has a list. It by far is better this way than the way my father’s family does it, which involves fighting, tears, name calling, all sorts of battles and eventually, whole generations of siblings not speaking to each other. Special. As you say, it is going to happen, prepare for it, deal with it, and move on.

        PSI hope that your mom did get some good Italian food. 🙂 And that you get her those little packets of Sanka to take to restaurants that don’t carry it. 🙂

      2. Lol I don’t plan on dying myself, I plan on living a life of mysticism, achieving peace and enlightnment and then simply ascending into the heavens as a big ball of energy. Or whatever I turn into lol.

    1. I’ve lived in Florida and Washington state. But the older I get, the more I really do truly love Maine and the people who live here. We are as tough as nails, and honest to a fault. No bullshit allowed here.

      1. The only thing I can nitpick about is the fact that for three months it’s minus-30 degrees. But this brutal cold is good for the soul, really helps us let our cranky personalities out.

  9. Love, love those pictures! I tend toward believing in reincarnation. In fact, I’m vaguely remembering now ….flying….. a plane…….lots of fog…….a mountain…..Damn! Darla! It’s me!!

  10. Thanks for bringing a slice of Maine to my morning. I miss that place. Just got back from Tennessee, and I have to say, it’s quite a different culture down there. I’m definitely a northern girl. Your mom’s a hoot. Would drive me nuts, but a hoot.

    1. Yep, you nailed her personality. She drives me completely up a wall. But she’s mellowing out more and more each day. The odd thing is, I never really thought about the fact that she is frigging hilarious and has a great dry sense of humor. Why didn’t I appreciate it before? She makes me laugh so hard.

      1. The thing I learned after my Dad died is that all the things that drove me crazy when he was alive are endearing to me now. I even find myself using the same silly sayings and doing the same silly things.😳

  11. I love the photos – I’m in the process of going through family photos and converting them to digital before folks who know who are in them are gone – I mean dead. I love your mom’s attitude – my mom is 76 and told us all she’d be gone by 70 and is still going strong or as strong as a 76 year old.

    1. That’s a great idea, converting them to digital. I love looking at old photographs. My mom will probably live to 100 the rate she’s going. (Her own mother actually did live to 100!)

  12. My Dad saw your uncle fly into that mountain, I think. Whenever he talked about young foolish men, he mentioned seeing a hot dog pilot fly overhead, waggle the plane’s wings at a group of girls on a beach in Hawaii and then fly smack into a mountain. (I am not making that up).

    Your mom is a hoot, and I’m so glad she didn’t get TB too!

    1. That is terrible! I asked my mom the story behind the plane crash. She said after surviving the Korean war, he decided to fly up to Alaska in a small plane with his best friend so they could go hunting. The fog came in too fast and they crashed, both died.

      My mom and I are both lucky we are here. Her own mother had many tragedies growing up. Her younger brother died of tuberculosis at a very young age.

      1. I worked on TB at the World Health Organization from 1999 to 2002. I was shocked to learn of its resurgence in the world. And it has only gotten worse since then. Scary stuff.,

        I’m glad your uncle wasn’t showing off …

  13. Yes – your mom has the right attitude. Hope she still may live to 100 or more, if she enjoys it!

    And may I quote Monty Python here:

    “…
    For life is quite absurd and death’s the final word
    You must always face the curtain with a bow
    Forget about your sin, give the audience a grin
    Enjoy it it’s your last chance anyhow

    So always look on the bright side of death
    Just before you draw your terminal breath

    Life’s a piece of shit when you look at it
    Life’s a laugh and death’s a joke it’s true
    You’ll see it’s all a show keep ’em laughing as you go
    Just remember that the last laugh is on you”

    (Monty Python, The life of Brian, excerpt from: Always look on the bright side of life)

  14. This cracks me up, and really reminds me of my grandma. Maybe it is a generational thing. She would have been around 90 now, but said from the time she was 65 that she didn’t like to make plans because she “might not be around that long.”

  15. My friend Frances, who just turned 80, won’t let her husband buy green bananas because she says they might not be around when they ripen. Gaahhh! Jeezum Crow is right! I love your “Mom” posts.

  16. Well this post about death was funny, and it is funny how the old seem to like to think they are going to kick the bucket at any given moment me I don’t intend to die I am just going to go one and one annoying people for ever…………….lol

  17. OK, well even though I’m from Massachusetts, I think my Mom got that same memo. When my daughter got engaged a year ago, my mom’s first response was “If I’m not dead, I’ll be at the wedding.”
    And in a crazy internet fueled coincidence, I used that same old lady photo all year in my classroom. I told the kids that was “Genevieve” the mean old lady who would come in and take over if they didn’t do their homework. She was on half my morning messages! Never knew that was your MOM……!!!!!

  18. Hahahahahaha! Don’t you wonder if you’ll be doing this to your own children? Is this constant grim reaper mentality hereditary? I say this because my dad did the same thing to us! “Bye dad we are leaving for the shore.” “Ok, have a good time … I hope I’m still around when you get back.” Nothing like dragging that extra bag to the beach.
    This was hilarious and it’s refreshing to know I am not alone! By the way…my mother doesn’t care about the 2016 election because ……. “I’ll be dead by then.”

    1. OH I have no doubt I’ll be doing this to my own kids. My mom also used to start every conversation with a reminder of her age, as in: “I am FIFTY FOUR YEARS OLD! And I’m not taking this crap!” I already do that. When my kids talk back, I yell “I AM FORTY THREE YEARS OLD! And what I say GOES!”

  19. Since my mom just passed away, this is hitting a different side of my funny bone. That whistling in the dark the geriatric crowd does is very different from actually preparing. Make sure Mom has her affairs in order–a living will, a trust or up-to-date will. Rather than going over those old pictures, she needs to show you where her safety deposit box is and how to access her bank accounts. It’s not nearly as fun–or tubucular–but will be a lot more help when the bucket gets kicked.

    1. So sorry your mom just passed away. My mom has everything in order and her mind is sharp as a tack. She has her safety deposit key on a big keychain in her desk and makes sure I know where it is and all her paperwork. Incidentally, the keychain reads: Elvis Has Left The Building. Yup, my mom has my sense of humor all right.

  20. Robin Moran

    you crack me up! that is what I LOVE about our blog. honest, upfront, no holding back! well, you could be holding back and I would not know. but, your openness is refreshing! I was raised in Maine, from 8 yrs old till I married at 20 yrs old and moved to NJ.

  21. about100percent

    Your mom is the best.

    I enjoy stating “I might be dead by then” to avoid commitment. But I have to choose my conversation partners wisely. I said it to my 13-year-old yesterday and then had to spend the next ten minutes assuring him that I wasn’t, in fact, afflicted with a fatal illness.

    1. I probably will save all my heavy mom guilt and “I might be dead by then” for my kids when they go off to college. Then they might come back home to let me at least do their laundry.

  22. My mother-in-law was like your Mom. She also was a hoot. A real character – I mean REAL. She also had a way with children. All kids loved her. She made the simplest things fun. Loved your post.

  23. I love your mom. Tell her I’m coming over to take her out for Chinese. That’s the only place you can get Sanka nowadays – when you order decaf.

  24. There’s been a lot of talk about death round here as my father in law has just been diagnosed with terminal cancer. It’s odd how some family members try to pretend it’s not happening while others are willing to listen to him talk about it.

    1. Sorry about your father-in-law. Everyone has their own way of dealing with death, that’s for sure. I’m the type that talks about it and doesn’t shy away from any heavy subject. To me, it’s a natural thing that we all must go through and why go it alone? Actually, I am considering working with the terminally ill and cancer patients. (I work in the medical field)

      1. People will also avoid talking about the deceased after they die. My brother told me to stop talking about my Dad to my mother because she needed to “get over it”. What BS that was! I talked to my mother about it to check in on her feelings and she told me that it made her happy when people talked about my Dad. I love talking about him. He was funny!

  25. It’s funny, it annoyed the heck out of me when my grandmother did this – probably because she really did expect to go any day and spent her last few years mostly moping around (yeah, it got pretty depressing at the end). Your mom, on the other hand, sounds hilarious.

  26. Cyrus Quick

    In the early days of photography there was an emphasis on keeping rock steady. I did once see a (1930s just before I was born) Sunday School treat group photo where the face of one kid was a swirl. He clowned on whilst all the other folk followed the rules. Serves him right.

  27. Thank you for explaining the grim facial expressions in all of those old photo albums. I never thought to blame the photographer, but it makes sense. It was new technology to those people in the pictures. They didn’t know the proper procedures, and were just following orders. That’s why we can’t trust anyone in positions of authority.

    Death is definitely funny. At least in Maine. Well, at least on your blog.

  28. Hilarious, especially the coughing part. This post reminded me of a conversation I had with my 57 year-old sister recently. She called me to tell me all about her Last Will and Testament that she just had drawn up. She went through every little detail with me as if she was going to die shortly. I found it funny because she is as healthy as an ox. I will most assuredly die before her, due to my many years of smoking (even though I quit a few years ago.) To older people, death is sometimes like an earned trust and a novelty that never dies (no pun intended.) I sometimes think they actually talk to their dead relatives periodically and receive updates.

    Good blog…glad I found you! 🙂

  29. So clever!
    Here in California, people do anything to evade death: face lifts, denial, over-exercise, etc. And there are barely any visible graveyards, because in the land of fruits and nuts, no one ever dies. Or even ages. I’m glad that in Maine, you and your mom bond over how every day is Impending Death Day. Too bad we Californians don’t realize that we can’t escape it either.
    Thanks for your brilliant post.

  30. Your mother and I seem to share an attitude about death. It’s nothing to look forward to, but it’s nothing to be scared stiff about. I’m in no hurry to meet death, but when it comes I’d like to go with a little dignity.

    Maybe that’s the horror writer in me speaking. Either way, keep calm and live a good life till you die, I guess.

    1. I used to be petrified of death, but over the years I’ve come to accept it and to be honest, I’m not afraid of it anymore. I won’t obsess over it either. I try to love my family while they’re still here. You’re right to “keep calm and live a good life until you die”. Best advice ever.

    1. I think if anyone would have an excuse it’d be you! So happy you’re doing better. Thanks for the tweet! I still have no idea how to navigate Twitter so I wasn’t sure if I could “like” your tweet or retweet it or what. It’s all so confusing.

  31. Multifarious Metamorphosing Amalgum

    That was absolutely hilarious. I’ve been in a dour mood all day and that got a few huckles out of me.

  32. Pingback: Jeezum Crow! I’ve been Freshly Pressed! | She's a Maineiac

  33. jessieneutrongirlgenius

    TOO funny, I love how you explain the conversation between your mother and yourself, definitely a woman I would want to meet!

  34. It always bugs me when I hear someone make plans and then state “God willing.” I always thought it was morbid. But in your post I see that acknowledging the inevitability of death can be freeing and funny.

  35. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed, Darla! This is great. My mom talks about dying all the time, too, pretty much in every conversation we have. Your pictures are amazing. Sullen and dour, indeed! And even the dog. What a crack up.

  36. This is a great tribute to your mother. As one Mainer to another, there are so many aged stoic folks here in the north. The stories they tell always start off with death, illnesses, trips to the doctor and new meds…its the craziest thing. I agree that death isnt as heavy here…its inevitable…and openly discussed and on occassion debated. And once those stories are told then they ask…so how are you Kath? Loved the post…hits so close to home and my stoic Maine family! Lol

  37. My great-grandmother, who has outlived all but one of her children, speaks like this all the time. Despite all she’s been through, she still loves to look through old photographs and laugh about being the only one of the people in the album left alive. My grandaunt once whispered conspiratorially to me that “Lola is so well acquainted with Death that they’ve become friends – that’s why he’s sparing her.”

    1. My gram (my mom’s mom) lived to 100 so she also had a very straightforward view of death. After all, she outlived both her husbands, her brother and pretty much every one else. The tragedy she lived through never dampened her spirit. I think that’s why she lived so long.

      1. There’s a lot to be said for a fighting spirit! Well done, her! Frankly, I plan to be that grannie with a weirdly dyed yet trendy haircut, shiny eye makeup and pink lipstick in the approximate vicinity of my lips. I’ll terrify my grandsons with tales of my impending demise. It’s going to be great fun!

  38. When I was 10 my dad used to say, “When I die bury me where I drop. And an old pine box will do, in fact don’t bother with the box. It costs too much.” I’m 40 now and he’s still working at 70. Funny thing is now when I get frustrated with things I remember, I’m going to die one day. Is this worth my time. It helps a lot. Lol

    1. My mom says the same thing. “Don’t bother with a big funeral, because I won’t be around to enjoy it. Just put me in a box”. Good attitude to have, I agree. I also remind myself that really, most stressful things in life are small things in comparison to the big picture so I try not to dwell on much. It’s hard, but very freeing.

  39. mrghuxley

    Great article. I just wanted to say – and forgive me if it has already been said – that the reason people didn’t smile in old photographs is because taking just a single photo would usually last several minutes. Imagine holding a smile for that long. It’s easier to just look like a grumpy bastard.

    1. True, my own mom told me the same. But hadn’t these people ever heard of Tyra Banks’ “smizing” technique? (smiling with one’s eyes) Sure, they had to stay still, but put some life into your face. Maybe they were all just ticked off they had to sit still for so long? (explains the dog’s look)

  40. Great humorous spin on the subject. Some of the people I know are similar but say anything involving seeing you later/tomorrow etc gets a ‘god willing’ of ‘if there’s a tomorrow’ added.

  41. Thanks to the eloquent musings of terry and deaner in FUBAR, I often think about how the anniversary of your death goes by every year. Not in a dark way, but it’s just too bad you’ll never know what day it is till it’s done. It would be like having an extra birthday! Maybe I should be from Maine.

    1. I almost wrote a post about how we celebrate birthdays but don’t like to be there when someone dies or is dying, we can’t face it. I guess it depends on what you believe in. I believe we go on after death and live many lives. So for me death is a door you walk through and is a huge transition we all face so why not talk about it more.

  42. My grandmother always says the exact same thing: “I might be dead tomorrow”. Except instead of being able to joke about it she just uses it to guilt me into going to visit her more often!

      1. You should have seen the funny looks I got when our NH family moved out to Kansas. Let’s just say the crow died fairly rapidly in the face of 9-year-old mockery. I am scarred for life. 🙂 Congrats on being FPd, by the way. You well deserve it! Cheers – Mother Hen

  43. Funny. And so well written! Hope to read another post by you, if I’m not dead. Or even if I am dead – I imagine there are few enough laughs in that state. More can’t hurt.

  44. My grandmother says the same thing: “I might be dead tomorrow”. Only instead of being able to joke about it she just uses it as a way to guilt me into visiting her more often!

  45. Death may not be funny, but you are.

    I had a great-grandmother who was the same way. Whenever we’d say goodbye, she’d trot out the “I might be dead the next time you come to visit” line. Which was kinda funny, because who would we be visiting if she were dead? Anyway. She weighed about 350 pounds, ate nothing but red meat, and lived to be 90. Go figure, right?

  46. I loved this post. People from the past (couple) of generations had a much different take on death than we seem to. I am from the midwest with its own stoic populace. Reminds me a lot of you ‘Mainers’.

    1. It’s true. My grandmother (my mom’s mom) lived through the depression and tuberculosis so I think in a way she had seen so much tragedy she chose to look at it as a matter-of-fact natural thing in life.

  47. This is a great post. Very lighthearted and well written. Especially dealing with death as a topic. I laughed a lot because my grandmother says the same type of stuff. This deserved to be freshly pressed!! Keep up the great writing.

  48. Pingback: My Best Friend Won The Nobel Prize And I Stayed Home To Watch Toddlers & Tiaras | Peg-o-Leg's Ramblings

  49. What a wonderful post! Congratulations on getting Freshly Pressed. It’s well-deserved! I once spent a depressing evening with my mother-in-law where she went through her thick address book, announcing how each person in it had died. (Maybe it’s an old lady thing.) Sadly, nothing as exciting as flying a plane into the side of a mountain.

  50. Nice to see your mom is still getting you Fresh Pressed! Sanka is pretty awesome coffee, I must say. Must have some cell regenerational benefits to boot (judging from your mom’s good health/humor). Congrats, Darla. 😀

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