Mental Health Monday: Death and Blackberries
Last October I woke up on a rainy Monday (like today) with Karen Carpenter’s words, “Rainy days and Mondays always get me down,” on my mind. Today is my last day at Seagrove Beach. The thunderstorms started yesterday and didn’t let up all night. They’re going to hang around all day. So, when I went for a walk during a break between the cloudbursts yesterday, I said goodbye to the beach in my heart. A couple of surfers were trying to catch a wave, but the ocean wasn’t quite active enough to carry them far.
I had planned to stay until Friday, but my daughter’s father-in-law, Joe Davis, passed away last Monday (in Memphis) and so I’m headed home tomorrow to prepare for a visit from Beth, Kevin and Gabby on Wednesday. The visitation for Joe is Thursday and the funeral is Friday. Sad occasion for a visit from my ten-month-old granddaughter and her folks, but I relish any reason to be with them. Kevin was in Memphis for a few days last week, returned to Denver for work, and will come back on Wednesday. I’m so glad he got to be with his father before he died, and also with his mother, Kay, and his brother, Brian, during and after their father’s death.
Joe was only 68—the same age as my father was when he died, back in 1968. “Papa Joe,” as Gabby will learn to remember him, served as principal at Manassas High School in Memphis before retiring to enjoy cooking, entertaining, fishing and traveling. This picture of Gabby with all four grandparents was taken in Denver on Christmas Day. Memory eternal, Papa Joe.
“Memory Eternal” is a phrase we say in the Orthodox Church when someone dies. A song we sing at their funeral, and again when we have memorial prayers for them later. It’s a prayer for that person’s memory to remain eternal—in the mind of God, and in the hearts of everyone who loved him. But I think that it’s also a trigger for other memories. Whenever someone dies, it reminds us of our own mortality. Sometimes our whole lives flash before us when this happens. We “remember our death,” as the church fathers say. We consider our own immortality. Or, in contemporary parlance, it’s an opportunity to “live like we were dying.”
Considering death is something we do with greater frequency as we get older. I think it not only helps turn the eyes of the heart towards eternal things, but it also helps the heart learn to moderate in temporal things. For me, that struggle for moderation is in the areas of food and alcohol. Illness can also help with this. Since my bout with the norovirus back in January, I’ve only slowly begun to crave food and alcohol again. I’m sure the battle isn’t over, but I’m thankful that it seems to be waning.
If you follow my blog, you know I’ve been posting about the help I’m receiving from Anne Lamott’s book, “Help, Thanks, Wow.” This morning I re-read a couple of pages from the “Wow” section, before moving on to the ending (which I’ll reflect on in a future post). Somehow it seemed to fit with the memories that are flooding my mind today. And the craving for funnel cake fries from Pickles in Seaside, “just one more time” before I leave the beach. Lamott says I’m not really hungry for funnel cake fries:
You mindlessly go into a 7-Eleven to buy a large Hershey’s bar with almonds, to shovel in, to go into a trance, to mood-alter, but you remember the first prayer, Help, because you don’t want the shame or the bloat. And out of nowhere in the store, a memory floats into your head of how much, as a child, you loved blackberries, from the brambles at the McKegneys’. So you do the wildest, craziest thing: you change your mind, walk across the street to the health food store, and buy a basket of blackberries, because the answer to your prayer is to remember that you’re not hungry for food. You’re hungry for peace of mind, for a memory…. So you eat one berry slowly, savoring the sweetness and slight resistance, and after sucking the purple juice off your fingers you say: Wow.
When I was a little girl, I used to pick blackberries (and some sort of wild plums?) in the country outside Meridian, Mississippi, with my cousin, David. We didn’t bother to wash them—just popped them in our mouths and kept picking. If I close my eyes right now I can remember how they tasted. How they felt in my mouth. Better than the starchy snacks I craved back home in the city. Better than just about anything. Except maybe for swimming in the pond after our grandmothers finished fishing.
I think I’ll skip the funnel cake fries today and enjoy the last couple of containers of Chobani Greek yogurt I’ve got in the refrigerator—one’s mango and one is blueberry, my two favorite fruits. Maybe I’ll pick up some steamed shrimp from Goatfeathers for my last taste of local seafood. There’s a half bottle of Conundrum open in the fridge… just enough for a glass or two before bed tonight, to ease the sorrow of leaving. Maybe I’ll only want one glass. Wouldn’t that be something?