I’m not a huge fan of death. Death can be very demanding. Sometimes not just death, but people around it, wanting everyone to grieve in a similar recognizable way. However, we all do that differently. Tears, no tears, anger, contentment, relief, to name a few.

In the instances where people are lucky enough to live a long good life, death just seems like the next natural step. Of course, let’s just agree, kind reader, that there’s nothing wrong with putting off that natural step as long as possible. But, when it’s time, it’s time.

Stereotypically, I suppose I can say that growing up on a farm one can get a closer perspective on life and death continually bumping into each other. Generally, you think of that in terms of animals on farms. However, I grew up on a potato farm and feel fortunate that I didn’t get confused, mistaking the euphemism of “passing away” with getting baked or peeled – a couple of the life ending processes for potatoes. In the true spirit of the farm, our family talked about death openly – and on occasion even jokingly.

I remember being eleven in 1976 when my grandmother died and the surreal feeling of going to my first funeral. I had an older cousin who met us at my aunt’s house after. He didn’t go to the funeral. He wore a big beard with accompanying long hair of the time and smoked an existential hobbit-like pipe. When asked why he didn’t go to the funeral he said,

“Why do I want to go look at a carcass.”

He was and is a good guy. I now know he was just going through a phase. At eleven I thought this was an over the top statement, but sensed he was just going through a phase.

At the same gathering a couple of cousins just two and three years older than me were still crying. I wasn’t crying and hadn’t cried at the funeral. I was cornered in a cloak room and told I was just too young to understand and that’s why I wasn’t crying. I did understand that my grandmother was 83 years old, had broken her hip and was in a nursing home she didn’t want to be in. I understood they were going to miss her. I also understood she didn’t want to be here anymore. I was sad to see her go, but it seemed like a better fit.

Within the last three weeks I’ve had several friends lose their mothers. It’s like I’m living in a Disney animated film. Well, I should be clear, they didn’t lose them. They know where they are located. They actually died. “Losing” is just nicer than “die”, although it seems a might careless. Somehow dying seems like something that should be reserved for plants or maybe we just say “dying”, but have it mean something more similar to the dying pertaining to colors. It will help me to think of it as change. Dear patient reader, regarding people, when we take trips we change from being here to not being here. Let’s just take a leap and call dying a trip (and I don’t mean that like my existential 70’s cousin would have meant it).

My Godmother Judy loved to travel. Judy was my mom’s oldest friend. They went to Catholic grade school through high school together. Judy moved to Florida and my mom planned to move to Florida, but met my dad and stayed in Wisconsin. Upon my birth, Judy was made my Godmother. Every birthday and holiday I received a card from Judy with her signature, “Jude, Godmother of the South”. This was until she moved to Maine, then she became “Jude, Godmother of the East.” And, later, back to Florida to reclaim the “Jude, Godmother of the South” title.

My mom and her would have three-hour phone calls once every 6 months and write several letters per year. My mom has never prided herself on her spelling, but she had very funny stories to write to Judy.

My mom would pour over her hand written letters with a dictionary by her side making sure her spelling was correct. The letter writing process could take three days of forced labor. Then I came along, my mom’s personal spelling machine. Don’t get the wrong idea. Dear, spelling able reader, you could have been the personal spelling machine had you been there. We’re not talking medical terms or conditions like Presbyterian, entrepreneur, diarrhea, or ah…ah….what’s the word….Aphasia. Just the basics.

I enjoyed making up stories as early as I can remember, but seeing my mom’s funny letters to her best friend Judy was the first time I really saw how one regular person might write something that might make another regular person laugh.

I only met Judy a handful of times when I was young and frankly barely remember those times. When Judy and her husband Dave lived in Maine we got together several times because my wife, let’s refer to her as Cynthia, is from New Hampshire. Judy was also able to make it to our wedding.

When older and visiting with Judy and hearing her laugh it became clear how my mom would want to make this person laugh. I know very few people who have such an infectious laugh. Judy also loved to dance, with Prince being one of her favorite things to dance to. I have not done all the research, but my initial thought is there aren’t a lot of Prince fans in their seventies.

The birthday and holiday cards that I received, starting some years ago, were all homemade. And on the front of each card was a photo that Judy had taken. I don’t remember many photos with people, but instead beautiful nature images of locations she had visited. She and Dave had visited Ireland many times and she had taken trips by herself and with her family. She loved to travel and it was all supported by her working and saving well into her retirement years.

Her daughter Heather, who I think of as a cousin I never see – like many of my real cousins I never see, called to let me know that Judy had died. I wasn’t by my phone so she left a short message, as she needed to contact others as well. We had been in touch the week or so before and I knew things were moving in this direction. This is the part of death I don’t care for – the knowing what to say. Judy might be amused that I’ve spent any time thinking about what to say. Something should be said, but doesn’t need to be said in most cases – but should be said and should mean something.

One of my friend’s, whose mother died, received some heartfelt condolences from friends on Facebook. I think it’s great that people let loved ones know they are not alone at the time when someone close goes missing – forever. A simple, “sorry for your loss” or “you’re in our thoughts and prayers”. The only thing is, in this case, just a month before her cat had died, and all her friends said, “sorry for your loss” and “you’re in our thoughts and prayers” for the cat also. Cat, Mother. Mother, Cat.

They all meant well and had no idea I would be watching and waiting for something that I thought was funny to come out of their caring posts. Sometimes I make the wrong call of saying nothing rather than saying what everyone else says. I have a hard time saying what everyone else says. That can be a problem. Or if I really want to stick to my word guns, it can make me think more about what I want to say and eventually say it. Then the problem is put on the people having to read all of what I to say – and it will be written, as using live words will inevitably come out wrong.

Just last week I got a card in the mail. It was from Heather, who is a writer and a more accomplished writer than me. She may have some of the same problem as me, regarding doing what everyone else does. Generally, the family of someone who has departed on a big trip doesn’t send out cards to others. We are supposed to send cards to them. But, I was happy for her breach of etiquette and for receiving the card.

The card was one of Judy’s homemade style cards, only this time there was a picture of her in khaki with a large billed hat and walking stick, like she was ready for a long journey. I thought it was interesting that this was the first card with a picture of her. But quickly realized this image of her is merely a compilation of all those images of nature she had composed. She is just part of it, dancing and being amused and interested in whatever surrounds her, on her latest adventure. We have not lost her. We can hear her laugh.

Sadly Yours,
Jason Spafford

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