Do You Have a Bury-the-Body Friend?

17578403 - woman carrying spadeI’ve gotta get me some friends, and not just Facebook friends, although I appreciate every one of you. I need some “bury the body”* friends, preferably young ones with strong backs.

County commissioner and sister writer Claire Hall shared that saying with me at a party on Saturday. A “bury the body” friend is one whom you can call at 3 a.m. to help you dispose of a corpse and they say, “I’ll be right there.” They don’t ask why you have a body to bury. They don’t say, “Are you crazy? It’s the middle of the night.” They just show up. With a shovel. That kind of friend.

I don’t expect to bury any bodies (okay, I did bury a dead rabbit a while back), but I do see the need for a bury-the-body friend. As a widowed, childless woman getting older by the second, I have been reading this book, Essential Retirement Planning for Solo Agers by Sara Zeff Geber. It’s extremely well done, and it scares the bejeebers out of me.

Geber’s main message is that we need to get our act together while we can. Even if we have spouses and kids, we need to make arrangements for our older years and our death. Our spouses may die. Our children may or may not jump in to help. And if we have neither, we’d better figure out who is going to handle such things as paying our bills, making medical decisions, making sure the dog gets fed, helping us to transition (God forbid) to a nursing home, or deciding what to do with our bodies when we die. Cheery stuff like that.

If we don’t have all our paperwork in order and haven’t chosen people to take care of things, either things will not be taken care of, or the job will be given to folks who don’t know us well enough to know what we would want.

So we need friends. Let me stress that I do have friends, wonderful friends, but most of them are older than I am. No, no, no, says Geber, you need to cultivate younger friends. Cozy up to them until you trust each other enough to put their names on your advanced directive. I’m not good at cozying. I hate networking. I’m uncomfortable at parties unless I’m playing with the band. Take a class, volunteer, join a club, says Geber, but I’m already plenty busy, and where I live, most of the people doing these things are seniors like me. Should I move?

How do all the people on TV sitcoms hook up with friends who are always together, always in one another’s homes, always there in a crisis? Does that really happen?

I’m working on ways to connect with friends under 65. I’m open to invitations and thinking of making some of my own, even though I’m an introvert who is much more comfortable at the computer.

How about you? Do you have a bury-the-body friend? If you don’t, do you worry about it? If you do have such a friend, how did you connect and how do you keep the friendship going?

Here’s another question: With young people so tied to their electronic devices, will they find themselves without lifelong bury-the-body friends in old age?

Please comment.

* I’m still trying to locate the original source of the “bury-the-body” saying, which has developed many variations, including that a real friend will show you the good spots for burying and that a real friend will assume that if you killed somebody they deserved killing.

** If you remember last week’s post, Annie the dog had knee surgery on Aug. 16. We were almost done with the worst of her recovery when her inflatable collar deflated early Saturday morning. I woke up to a limp collar and the dog licking her incision. She kept licking it, reopening the wound and making for a tense weekend. I bought a new collar that proved too big. She got it off and went back to licking. This morning, which was supposed to be the day for removing Annie’s sutures, the vet sentenced us to an extra week of the collar, the pills, and the inability for me to leave the dog for any longer than necessary. Back to the Mini Pet Mart. I bought a new collar that even escape artist Houdini could not get out of. We’re both going stir-crazy. Grr.

Photo Copyright: auremar / 123RF Stock Photo

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I am the Weeping Keeper of Past Lives

It had been a beautiful Sunday, yet there I sat sobbing over old photos as the first “Sex and the City” movie played in the background. Certain parts of the movie always get to me–when Charlotte tells Carrie she’s pregnant, when Miranda and Steve reunite on the Brooklyn Bridge, when Carrie and Big get back together–but it wasn’t just that. It was all the lives piled up on the card table.

Somehow, having survived the deaths of my husband, his parents and his younger brother, I have become the keeper of the archives, boxes and boxes of photographs, slides, and memorabilia. The more I sell or give away, the more there seems to be. Like me, Fred’s dad never went anywhere without a camera. I carefully compiled the first 20 years or so of our marriage into albums, but I have my own boxes of prints and slides, including the black and white pictures I processed in my darkroom-happy years. There are pictures from life with my first husband. It was a life with so many promises never fulfilled. There are my grandparents, my parents, aunts, uncles and cousins, so many of them gone. I miss them all, and I weep. There’s the house we used to live in on Safari Drive. I weep.

There are the Lick photos, none of them properly stored, yet many surviving almost a century. It’s not the family I grew up with. I never met Fred’s grandparents. I never saw his mom and dad as young people or Fred and his brothers as little boys, yet here they are in countless photos. As Fred’s Alzheimer’s progressed and he forgot his history, I remembered it for him. Now that he’s gone, I look at that cute little boy with glasses and weep. I look his parents and weep. I look at pictures of Fred’s children, my stepchildren, as babies with their mom, and I weep. Some days I can’t believe I ever was part of this family, and yet it’s part of me. As I sort, I keep a few things for myself and I throw out the things that I don’t think will interest anyone anymore, but I keep sending boxes of pictures to Fred’s kids and his brother. It’s all paper, somebody’s click of the camera. Does anybody care? In the boxes from the storage locker, I also found love letters from Fred’s dad to his mom, the telegraph he received when he got his job at Boeing, and the one sent to Fred’s grandparents when he was born.These are precious, but who should have them? Surely not me.

There are other pictures that hurt because they emphasize the big chunk of Fred’s life when he was married to someone else. Wedding. Christmas. Babies. Crew-cut clean-shaven pix of Fred graduating from college, posing with his wife and his parents. He looks so different without his beard, yet I know that mouth, those eyes. I was 13 years old that year. I didn’t know Fred the way he looked then, and if I did, we could not have been lovers, but I still ache for him, for his smile, for his touch, his warmth.

Many of the pictures were taken on the countless cruises Fred’s parents took. Alaska, Panama, the Bahamas, Hawaii. While I don’t want to take a cruise, I miss traveling with my husband, and I wonder if I’ll ever get to those places on my unwritten bucket list. Do I want to go alone?

I find a framed 8 x 10 photo of a big black dog. I never met that dog, which belonged to my late brother-in-law, but I love dogs and plan to put this one on my wall because it makes me smile. There are 78 rpm records by artists I never heard of, and I have all the camera gear, valuable in its time, now nearly worthless because it isn’t digital. I don’t know what to do with these.

What will happen to all those pictures we’ve been taking in recent years, storing on our hard drives and tiny memory cards? Will they last long enough for descendants three or four generations down to spend an afternoon studying them, thinking about the people and places they depict and weeping while the E channel airs “Sex and the City” yet again? I worry that all of our memories will disappear, just like the stories I stored on floppy disks. Do we just put them on Facebook and then forget them?

I ended my cryfest with a glass of Portuguese red wine a friend brought to Nye Beach Writers Saturday night. That’s my heritage, and I could fill a room with those photos, too. I’ll probably cry. Cheers.

What about you? Do you have boxes of ancient photos? What do you do with them when the older generation is gone? Please share your stories.

U stands for unleashed–or is it unhinged?


Fred with Annie (tan) and her brother Chico a few years ago on the deck

U stands for unleashed, as in Unleashed in Oregon. Sometimes “unhinged” might be a better assessment. Last Monday, for example.

Exhausted from my Easter festivities, I was ready for a long, deep sleep, but no. At 2:38 a.m., Annie started barking, and she was still barking off and on five hours later. She seemed to have found a critter trapped under the deck. Whatever it was scratched her face during the night. Or else she scratched it on the lattice along the base of the deck. The intruder couldn’t be very big. I had seen a rat sneak in and out a couple times at twilight, but Annie hadn’t seemed to notice. We occasionally had squirrels. I suppose a cat or small raccoon could have gotten in there if it was determined enough. Whatever it was, Annie was still barking, and I was still awake when it was time to get up.

Sleep-deprived or not, I had a busy day that included a business meeting and providing music for a funeral, but first I crawled around on the wet grass in my bathrobe trying to see what was under the deck. I saw nothing except a muddy spot where Annie had tried to dig her way in. I thought about shooting some water through there, setting a trap, or calling the exterminators. What I wanted to do was ignore it, but if Annie was going to keep barking, I’d never get any sleep and the neighbor would eventually select a rifle from his vast collection and take care of both Annie and whatever she was barking at. Somehow, like our recent adventures with plumbing and yard work, we would handle it. Once I inspected the deck, Annie seemed satisfied for the moment and went to sleep. Now the rain has returned, and Annie is staying in her warm bed during the night. Me too. But the invader is probably still around.

When Fred and I moved to Oregon in 1996, we unleashed ourselves from our families, our home, our jobs, and everything that was familiar. Looking back, it strikes me that we were like dogs who smelled something good way up the road, chased after it and found ourselves in an unfamiliar place with no way to get back. So we started new lives here. It was indeed very good, although we missed the old lives sometimes.
Now that Fred is gone (three years ago yesterday), I am even more unleashed. No husband. No newspaper job. In theory, I’m free to go wherever I want, just like the dog when she slips out the gate and runs into the woods. But also like the dog, I don’t want to wander too far from home. I want my Milk-Bones (see M is for Milk-Bones) and my iced tea. Of course some of my family thinks I’m just unhinged.
This blog is about my adventures with Annie in our post-Silicon Valley lives. We are unleashed and running free in Oregon. Metaphorically speaking. They’ve got leash laws up here, just like most places, and my dog is too much of a wackadoodle to unhook just anywhere.
U stands for a whole lots of “un” words. Unlikely, unbelievable, unwanted, unplugged, underdog and so many more. It also stands for ugly, ubiquitous, utopia, and umbrella, something we don’t use here because it would just blow inside out. And it stands for Under the Deck, where something lives.
U is for Unleashed in Oregon, where I plan to keep blogging long after the A to Z Challenge ends next Wednesday. My alphabetical posts are distributed among my various blogs. Here is the schedule:

 
A Newsletter–A is for Annie
B Childless by Marriage–B is for Baby
C Unleashed in Oregon–C is for Crate
D Writer Aid–D is for Deadline
E Unleashed in Oregon–E is for Ear
F Unleashed in Oregon–F is for Fur
G Unleashed in Oregon–G is for Gunk
H Childless by Marriage–H is for Harley
I Unleashed in Oregon–I is for I-5
J Writer Aid–J is for Job
K Unleashed in Oregon–Key is for Keys
L Unleashed in Oregon–L is for Lick
M Unleashed in Oregon–M is for Milk-Bone
N Childless by Marriage–No is for No, I Don’t Know Children’s Songs
O Unleashed in Oregon–O is for Oregon Everything
P Writer Aid–P is for Prompts
Q Unleashed in Oregon–Q is for Question
R Unleashed in Oregon–R is for Rhodies
S Unleashed in Oregon–S is for Shoes Full of Sand
T Childless by Marriage–T is for Talk
U Unleashed in Oregon
V Writer Aid
W Unleashed in Oregon
X Unleashed in Oregon
Y Unleashed in Oregon
Z Childless by Marriage

More than 2000 other bloggers have signed up for the challenge. For more information, visit a-to-zchallenge.com You might find some great new blogs to follow. I know I will. Visit Writer Aid tomorrow to find out what V stands for.

His eye was on the widowed sparrow

Bang! Bang! Something hit a window. Hard. Like some jokester, a visitor trying to get my attention. But I live in the middle of nowhere, alone with my dog Annie. At twilight on a Sunday night, I was not expecting company.

Heart pounding, I left my computer and searched for the source of the sound, expecting/fearing to see a human or a large animal like a bear. In the living room, I saw Annie looking down into the flower bed. In the dim light, I still couldn’t see anything, so I went out.

Between the white daisies and the purple hebes, I saw a dusty-brown sparrow sitting cockeyed, tail up. She had hit the window and now sat stunned, possibly dying, her white-rimmed eye squinted in pain. Knowing I could not heal her, I could only pray. Lord, please let this sparrow live.

I went back to my computer, where I was on my fourth page of writing about how lonely I am, how every little thing is fraught with memories, how my husband and most of my birth family have died or live so far away I never see them, how I’m jealous of people with husbands and grandchildren. All this was sparked by seeing Annie’s mom and sister on our walk–her family. But now, thinking about the sparrow, I decided to quit my whining and play the piano for a while.

An hour later, I went back out with my flashlight. The sparrow had righted herself and her eye looked clearer, but she seemed to be pumping up and down, perhaps in pain? Oh God, please help her, I prayed. This time I was drawn to touch her. I put one finger on her soft feathers. So soft. “God bless you,” I said, and went back in.

At bedtime, I took one more look. She was still there. She looked the same, still alive, still pumping up and down. But this time I noticed something else. There were two birds. The other, a male, lay dead on the sidewalk, its feathers splayed out like a fan. Was she grieving? Would she stay here indefinitely or fly off when she felt strong enough? Please God, I prayed. Let her live. Let her be gone in the morning.

I thought about the two birds during the night, the dead male and the female rocking in pain or grief. (Is there any difference?) I don’t know why they hit the window. Perhaps they saw their reflection. Perhaps they were attracted by the light. Perhaps they were just flying along and bang! Everything changed forever.

This morning, the widowed sparrow was gone. In the light, I could see two patches of gray and white feathers stuck to the window glass where they hit. After breakfast, I will take the male’s weightless body to a resting place under the trees. The widowed sparrow, like me, will go on.