By: Lise Kunkel <>
Mon Aug 24 06:51:21 1998
Dying is Dull Work
A Family Recipe
By Lise Kunkel
Location: Canandaigua New York US

Age:[ 41 ] Gender:[ F ]

Comments: One of my 3 brothers, my 21/2 yr old daughter & myself came from distant places and moved in with Mom & Dad fo r the last 9 weeks of Dad's life. My two other brothers, husband and my brother's partner came as often as they could and were very pr esent as well. This was a real family shin-dig.

	Dying is Dull Work: A Family Recipe for D.O.D. 
   It's a funny thing about the Bigger Questions-- we are often left
   to our own devices to
find our way-- to seek out role models from literature, religion,
&/or life-- or not.  Family often volunteers guidance on the
lesser questions (no doubt):  don^t wear fuschia to your wedding;
name the baby Ira;  please, use the other stuffing recipe this year.
But where are the family recipes for good dying and death?  And so,
Mrs. Lincoln, beyond that, how did you find the play?

    The blessed daliness of life.  Fuschia, baby Ira and the other
    stuffing recipe realistically
make up the bulk of life.  Don't you think?   I am fond of saying we
die as we live.  Meaning- as a blueprint to life-- if you attend to
the truth, you're decent, you love, you keep a sense of humor, you
try again, you "sin" once in a while and shake your own head about
it (my friend, Judi, who is Catholic, would make me add this to the
list if she saw it- so I'll just do it), and oh yeah: you don't take
yourself too seriously all the time-- probably you'll die that way.
Not meaning to be glib-- and knowing I probably don^t even need to
point this out-- but, just the same, you will likely be sad to leave,
unsure about later, maybe a little self-indulgent from time to time.
You will feasibly have serious concerns about the ones left behind,
reasonably be filled with uncertainties-- but it will be OK.  
     It was OK.  (Not the Pain Part~ that was unconscionable.)
     Dad made it OK by his
acceptance and his gift of normal-making.  He had this uncanny ability
to let us in emotionally, to allow us to be right there however we
could manage and to make it all normal. I'm not sure what he would
say about this- probably that he went about his business and included
those, as best he could, who wished to be present. From close family
to outer-sphere acquaintances-- he made himself amazingly available--
and I believe truly that this was his vehicle for coping or finding
his way-- to invite those interested parties to accompany him.
Reliably, till the last, he made good use of E-mail, visits, letters
and the telephone to communicate with his community.  With an ample
dash of stoicism, and, of course, wit.  Don't get me wrong-- he
was not needy about this; it always felt to me that I was getting
certainly as much and often more than I gave.  Kind of an honor to
be let in at this essential level-- and let in so gracefully.  
   So-- practice being vulnerable, child-like and available--
   juxtaposed to, born out of,
graced by or in spite of all that life experience you have inside of
you-- collected lovingly, painfully, joyfully and monotonously over
years. (I'm a "litany" kind of person- should've been Catholic.)
And you will be OK.  Does this sound like a reasonable recipe?  
     And you know how everything I just wrote sounds simple-- I think
     it is?  From all
sides, it still hurts to say goodbye.  It is still tough to recognize
my place at the table with Dad's physical absence. Kind of have to
move the chairs in- a little this way, a little that way- nope- still
doesn't feel right.  Maybe this part we cannot so much control.  And
maybe that's OK.  But at the risk of being sophomoric, I think that's
the catch: Acceptance and Simplicity.  And I know I need reminders.
Life so often bucks simplicity.  (The Serenity prayer comes to mind
here.)  This is my way of thinking-- of course, not for everyone--
so on and so forth. 
None the less, Mrs. Lincoln gave the play rave reviews.  
Love, me  
  Post Script:
    Oddly enough, this morning while leafing through a book of Zoe's  
  (Poems children will sit Still for),  I found the bit below as the
  introductory paragraph to
the Nonsense Poetry section.  Our family has always been BIG on
nonsense, big on humor: the favored coping mechanism, the favored form
of entertainment at family gatherings-- I'd venture to say humor is
as good a gauge as any of our family's spiritual health.   (please
trust truth and forgive fiction- at this point- it could have been
diced cucumber dressing that carrot.)  This first incident is now
solid family mythology:  Psychologist at UNC Hospital Oncology Group:
Describe yourself in three words, Robert. Jiggs (who has NEVER been
Robert to anyone but those reading his name from a form):   SIX FEET
TALL <><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><>
 Lise about to insert first rectal suppository: If you
could roll to your left side, Dad. Jiggs:  Somehow, this
isn't what I envisaged when they held you up at the glass.
<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><> Jiggs
upon being wheeled outside in his yard by 3 of his 4 children at
a cost of limp-leaf fatigue and severe vomiting (but loving it
just the same):  Who's been taking care of this yard?  Nathan,
go get the wheelbarrow-- bring some compost to the front!  Job,
pick-up those sticks!  barkbarkbarkbarkbarkbark . . . Lise:
Save your strength, Dad!  Who's going to sit up in the stretcher
and hold the door for the morgue guys if you're too tired?
Dad's appetite diminished, he requested "One raw Baby Carrot" for
dinner. Undaunted, Claire and Lise fixed nouvelle cuisine replete
with finely chopped parsley encircling- and slivered red pepper
crowning the anything but diminutive carrot.  We served on a fancy
tray accompanied by a full family wait-staff, a simple floral spray,
 candle and linen napkin.  Dad didn't miss a beat.  Deadpan-- he sat
up, knife and fork in hand and had himself a feast.  The boys took
a photo of the cooks and their comestibles: nice to have it now.
 Dad had an ongoing character:  Mr. Buckethead.   I think Job dubbed
 him that.  Just
for Zoe, really.  He'd wear his emesis bucket on his head
like a hat and talk to her in a deep muffled voice, "I am
Mr. Buckethead."  Or he'd say nothing and she would ignore him--
eventually pointing while shrilly pronouncing, "Mr. Buckethead!!"
<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><> Jiggs
with a slow smile:  ^dying is dull work.^ (no joke) 
   So I suppose I should have underscored humor-- because that was
   probably one of our
biggest ingredients.  Nonsensical/gallows/stand-up/dry/wry/and
* * *  Mostly Nonsense  If men are distinguished from all other
creatures by the faculty of laughter, then children (and some gifted
adults) are distinguished by their faculty of responding, without
inhibition, to nonsense. And if nonsense needs defending, we will
call to the witness stand Josh Billings, a favorite humorist of
Lincoln's day, who says, "Good nonsense is good sense in disguise."
__________________________________________till later- lck

-- Lise Kunkel . . . [ ]

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