What Fresh Hell?

Berlin - March 8, 2018


I woke up last night – not unusual – I wake up many nights at two or three regardless of wine or coffee – I’ve heard that sleep is disrupted at my age – people joke about it, although it’s not so amusing when it’s dark and one’s mind churns. I try to remember my German lessons, which article, das, der, die – which one adheres to which noun. Then a name becomes stuck. I can’t remember someone’s name a name that would have at one point in the past tripped off my tongue but now it unglues itself and only hours or days later will it pop unbidden into my head and I think I’m coming down with my heritable brand of cognitive decline.


Days after my family lost two of our own, I read a tip on How to Lament by Malia Wollan in the New York Times Magazine. It begins:

“‘‘You must have visible tears,’’ says James M. Wilce, an anthropology professor at Northern Arizona University who studies lamentation, or what he calls ‘‘melodic wailing’’ with words. Wet cheeks are the minimum: In some places, funeral keeners throw themselves to the ground, sway their bodies or beat at their chests.””

These are my tips:

·         Be at some point in your adult life – say 30s to your 90s – I am at a perfect 61 years


·         On one day in July, lose two people:

o   A mother-in-law, 90, known for her love of family, her candid ‘zingers’, at home, in her own bed, with adult children by her side

o   A nephew, 22, beloved son of my sister, unexpectedly at home


·         Clutch sister, hold her tight, knowing full well that whatever grief you are feeling is the merest hint, the tiniest water droplet in the ocean of what she is feeling. Let tears fall.


·         Attend your nephew’s funeral and hear his neighborhood brothers and sisters, choking back sobs as they tell the old stories of what all they got up to when the grownups weren’t looking.


·         Attend your mother-in-law’s funeral at her Lutheran Church. She wanted the old hymns played. Even though you are, on the most spiritually ambitious days, barely an agnostic and once told your Sunday School class at Myers Park Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., “I don’t believe in God,” lose it when the strains of “The Old Rugged Cross,” begin.


·         Yesterday, at your grandson’s insistence and prior to his nap, read to him a book called “The Tub People.” The basic plot deals with tiny wooden figures, a mom, a dad, a grandma, a doctor, a policeman, a little boy child and a dog who live on the edge of the bathtub. They have adventures during bath time, like rafting on the bar of soap. The crisis occurs when one night the father cannot rescue his tub child, because at the end of the bath the water is rushing too quickly and the tiny figure slips down the drain. The tub people call and call and little soapy tears run down their faces. Later, the drain becomes stopped up, a plumber is called, the tub child is found and all of the tub people are moved to the bedroom where they will be forever safe. Let the tears fall.


https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/04/magazine/how-to-lament.html?_r=0How to Lament

Conrad, Pam. The Tub People. NY: Harper Collins, 1999.

heather jones