Are you ready for the whitest white girl thing I just did? I joined a 5-week long writing club, hosted by a podcast (more about the podcast at the end of this post!) called “Terrible, Thanks for Asking.”
Stop rolling your eyes! It was my type of commitment – no rules, no deadlines. Each week they send a prompt, and you respond. Easy peasey. Last week was: “How are you, really? Write about how you feel today.” I publish this intentionally today as we all embark on that great American tradition of eating a meal with people who may drive you cray.
Um, here goes nothing.
We talk about death in our family with an openness that I’ve come to understand is, um, unusual.
Last night, Veda took my face in her hands and said matter-of-factly: “Don’t worry when Dada dies and you die, I will have sissy.”
(Is it dusty in here? My eyes are watering.)
More than once she’s reminded me that her Great Bampa (my grandfather) is dust, because, as I’ve explained, when you die you turn to bones or dust and that he was anice man. (He is and he was.) Veda attended her Great Bampa’s death watch and celebration of life, we visit the family plot in Vermont once year.
Matt taught me about death. His parents died before we met. I had never known an orphan so well and I asked him all the questions.
Do you think about them every day? Do you talk to them? Dream about them? (For the record: not everyday, occasionally, yes.)
He’s thee best person at a wake or funeral, having been on the receiving end of loss, he knows what the bereaved needs and can deliver. Unlike the rest of us, bumbling through the mourning process, Matt knows what good looks like.
I lost a colleague, a friend in early October. He was 41, a creative at LEGO, brilliant in all the ways, had a wife and two year old. We bonded over parenthood. He delighted in my silly bedtime Stories of wrangling Veda to sleep, but not as you would expect. He loved parenthood so much, his was the only response to be: “oh, man! I can’t wait till it happens to me!” WITHOUT IRONY. But, that’s who Scott was.
It was a tragic accident on a work trip. And this is almost impossible to understand. I’ve been turning this fact over in my mind like a stone, looking for the thing that allows us to move forward. During his celebration of life service (which was aptly an art show, he was a prolific creator), his wife spoke. She talked about her goodbye to him that day as he left, quick, chaotic, like every work trip goodbye I’ve ever had.
With unimaginable grace she told us few hundred souls staring back at her with red eyes: to never take the people you love for granted.
Have you ever had an out of body experience? A moment when you are looking back down on yourself only with a newer, bigger perspective? Maybe it was the two IPAs I downed the moment I walked in (when the time comes, please have a bar at my service), maybe it was the 75 minutes of weeping and anger (grief is a complicated thing) I cycled between during the mingling portion of the evening, but whatever it was – I know now what Matt knows, it can all change.
You see, this is all you get, you get your family and the people you choose as your family. And goddamn, that is a lot. It’s a lot. Don’t ever take for granted that is it a lot. Look at the people around your table, those are you people. And they love you, even if they show it in weird ways.
I had written an email to Scott, and it languished in my Drafts folder because I felt too cool send it. Gushing over his ability to wrangle creatives while balancing my business needs. Dumb brand manager stuff, but I meant it without irony.
So, here’s where I pivot, here’s the part where I turn from “my friend died and it feels like a lot of things” to something my practical New England Heart can grip the edges of – the mix tape to play at my wake. And here it is:
10 Songs to Play at my Funeral (aka my Wake Mix Tape)
I stole the idea for this part of the post from Matt. He had a music blog when we met, it was set aside when we had the kiddos. Maybe my crappy homage will inspire him to jump back to it, because unlike me, he is actually entertaining to read.
So take note, at my celebration of life, after I’ve been turned to dust: open up the bar, and play these songs that I love, talk the things we did together and how much we laughed. (Oh, and check my Draft emails, there is probably a love note to you in there that I was too shy to send.)
- Tom Petty, Wildflowers – First step to any good Celebration of Life or Wake is the crying. You have to cry. A LOT. Seriously, it helps to cry in the company of others. I am really good at crying, in pubic, by myself, crushing the cry. This song will get the tears going, it makes me think my children.
- Jeff Buckley’s, Hallelujah – Yup. Keep crying. Back in the 90’s, it was Jeff Buckley’s version that introduced me to this Leonard Cohen song. It stops the world for me. Fun fact: Leonard Cohen was an iterator. He wrote 80 versions of Hallelujah. (As someone who wants to edit captions from months-old posts, I can relate.) Extra credit: Malcolm Gladwell’s brilliant podcast “Revisionist History” did a WHOLE EPISODE on this one song. If you have ears, and listen to one podcast a year, god, please go listen that episode.)
- Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper, Shallow – OH MY GOD. I’ve had this on repeat since I saw the movie. It’s just raw and beautiful. Listen to this and cry some more.
- Wilco’s, California Stars – Everytime I here this song, I nudge Matt from his seat and we dance. It’s an embarrassing level of PDA, but I cannot help myself. It’s a Woody Guthrie song, discovered by his daughter after his death. I first heard it sung by Caitlin Canty, but the Wilco cover is a family favorite. When I ask Veda, “What’s in California?” “Stars,” she says to me.
- U2, All I Want is You – They play this and you will think: “oh man, this was Ari and Matt’s first dance song. Sad, but their wedding was pretty fun. We had fun.” Now we begin to ease out of the crying, hero’s journey and all that, here we go.
- Jose Gonzalez’s, Heartbeats – Another cover that I find better than the original. In early 2000, Sony used this version of the The Knife’s song in a commercial for some fancy TV. I link to the commercial because I’m a marketing nerd, it’s still the best ad for a TV ever made. No, seriously. Not only from a marketing perspective, but from an execution perspective: You only get one chance to launch a gazillion bouncy balls down a residential street in SF, they planned for moving and static shots, and also captured complete serendipity – that frog hopping out the drain spout. I mean, come on.
- Neko Case, This Tornado Loves You – This tornado loves you. I’m not a neat person, I leave a little mess in my wake. That’s how you’ve known I’ve been there. My kids will likely be finding little nests of old Atlantic magazines and unfinished crossword puzzles years after I croak.
- Flight of the Concords, Foux Du Fafa – Yep, this will filter into the crowd (ahem, I expect a crowd!), and at first you’ll think, oh great, a weird French song. Ari would have picked that. Then you’ll be like: waitaminute! Then you’ll laugh.
- Daft Punk, Get Lucky – Your head is bobbing just thinking about this song, I know it. It’s a toe tapper, and just wicked fun to listen to. Oh, and Wilco has a cover that is straight up delightful.
- Ryan Adams, Bad Blood – Another cover (sorry, not sorry!) He’s world weary, Ryan Adams, in a sweet way. Mandy Moore saw in him what we all see, a guy to take care of. It’s his known dysfunction that make his take on TayTay extra impactful. And, he’s fantastic live, during the show we saw, instead of leaving the stage and returning for an encore, he says. “I’ll just say here, I mean you know I’m going to play you a few more songs.” My New England Heart appreciates such bare efficiency.
- Icona Pop, I Love It – If this song doesn’t make you lose your mind with dancey, happy energy, you have no soul. At his wedding, Troy and I did an epic sibling serenade to each other while dancing our little hearts out. [Adds dance floor to final arrangements.]
That’s it! See, it was a little life-affirming, wasn’t it 🙂
The “Terrible, Thanks for Asking” podcast is amazing. The topics are deep and dark – cancer, suicide, death – but discussed by the host, Nora McInerny in a completely normal way.
I believe everyone has a superpower (mine is to be drunk, but not appearing drunk, drives Matt nuts). Nora’s is normalizing the hard stuff that comes with life. I usually like to pull out an episode to start with, but for this one, pick the topic you need to hear about.
This is the description from the website:
Hosted by Nora McInerny, this is a funny/sad/uncomfortable podcast about talking honestly about our pain, our awkwardness, and our humanness, which is not an actual word.