Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Starts and Stops ( In which popping the cork leads me to reflect on kicking the can)

Share |

We’re counting down the days until New Year’s Eve. Soon the whole world will be celebrating, making merry and dancing in the streets. It’s a scene that naturally leads one to think about death.

Not everyone thinks about death on New Year’s Eve. Many think about it the next morning. I myself am past the age of staying out too late and drinking more than is good for me. In fact when the big moment comes at midnight, my kids think it’s a celebration of seeing Mom awake past 10 p.m.

My partner and I haven’t decided how we’ll welcome in the new year. Many people like to celebrate with family. Often it helps if the family is not your own. I know families who fight constantly about when they’re going to get together to share how much they love each other.

I am planning some New Year’s resolutions. I make a long list of resolutions every year and I’m happy to say I keep every one of them. Usually I keep them my bottom drawer where I won’t have to look at them. What I should do is write resolutions such as “Eat more chocolate” or “Never put off till tomorrow what I can avoid doing altogether.”

The New Year is also a time for reflection. Recently I watched a television program about influential women of history whose contributions have been widely recognized and honoured (I think it was about a half hour long). One thing that struck me is how medical science really has changed the way we live in this century. A thousand years ago life was difficult, uncertain and short. Now it’s an average of 30 years longer.

The lives of women in particular were very different in olden times. Even a hundred years ago a woman spent her days cooking, cleaning, picking up after children, sitting up by lamplight trying to get her work done, whereas I spend my time… I have electricity.

There was one thing these notable women from history had in common: they’re all dead.

Death is scary. The best think I can say about my own death is that it hasn’t happened yet. I recall someone once commenting to my father, “Who really wants to live to be 100?”

My father’s answer: everyone who’s 99.

But, as the saying goes, The only sure things in life are death and taxes. Whoever said that didn’t have teenagers or he would have added “and laundry.”

Even experts can find death difficult to deal with. My friend Judith, a minister, recalls counseling a grieving family about appropriate clothing for their deceased mother. She said, “Avoid anything your mother wouldn’t be caught dead in.” She’s still smarting.

I do know that I’d like to be cremated but maybe that’s because it’s winter and I live in Canada. I’d like my ashes spread over the food court of Harrod’s department store in London England. It’s the only place I can imagine spending eternity. For a while there was a Harrod’s a Pearson airport so I thought I’d have to be careful in specifying which Harrod’s or I’d end up spending eternity in terminal three. I did that once when my flight to Newfoundland was delayed and it’s not an experience I care to repeat.

I would also like a memorial service. A memorial service is a time for people to say all of the nice things about the deceased they never said when the person was alive. I once read a 19th C eulogy that went, “The highest praise to be given her is that she kept a clean house.” I’m determined nobody’s every going to say that about me.

So far the only thing I’m reasonably sure I’ll leave behind me is the bottle of salad dressing at the back of the fridge. But I hope it will be found of my life that I said, “I love” more often than I said, “I want.” And, that I had not time to think about dying because I was far too busy living.

I don’t know if this will make for a notable life. It certainly makes for a happy ending.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Related item from our archives

Anne Hines

Anne Hines is the author of three novels, Fishing Up the Moon (Pedlar Press, 1998), The Spiral Garden (McArthur & Co, 2005) and Come Away: song of songs (McArthur & Co., 2007) and one collection of nonfiction humour, A Year In HineSight (McArthur & Co, 2002). A series of essays, Parting Gifts: notes on loss, love and life is due for publication by McArthur & Co, fall 2008.

Go to Anne Hines’s Author Page