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The Mortality Club

Widow's Walk

I wrote Widow’s Walk when I was thirty five years old. Tracing my first year’s torturous journey after my husband died of a heart attack was an attempt to come to terms with death and its aftermath. Now, at the age of seventy-one, I am attempting to come to terms with the challenges of aging and, as the runway of my life gets shorter, the certainty that I will die. I wrote The Hourglass: Life as an Aging Mortal to describe this part of life’s journey. Many who have read that book urged me to republish Widow’s Walk. This posting is taken from the Preface I wrote for that new edition.

Although it was a difficult and sometimes heart-wrenching process, I believe it is even harder to lose a spouse when we’re older than when we are young and the future is filled with the sense of potential. The experience of several of my close friends who have recently become widows and widowers has convinced me this is true. When we are older, we are less resilient. The are fewer paths open for us to discover. Our energy levels are lower than they were, making it harder to explore the new paths that do present themselves. There are fewer candidates who can or want to fill our empty chair. We may not even want them to do so, peferring to content ourselves with the memories we built over the years with our dead mate.  Read More 
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Conversations About Dying

The other day I came across a blog posted by the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. I was attracted by the smiling face and wide brown eyes of the young woman in a black graudaton cap and gown. She held a diploma in one hand and roses in the other. Her name is Tara Baysol. She was the author of the blog.

The first paragraph broke my heart: “I was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2013 at th age of 27. Just prior to my diagnosis, I had started a new, exciting chapter as a Yeale graduate student. My self-confidence was at an all-time high as I had survived my chaotic early 20s and was beginning to really figure things out. But then the symptoms arrived, and they led to a discovery that demolished everything.”  Read More 
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SAVING THE DEAD: Post Mortem Photographs

December 20, 1914
During one of our trips to Australia, my husband David found in an antique shop a poster sized photograph taken of the 740 Australian men who volunteered to fight during the First World War. These farmers, shopkeepers, and others who had never served in the military but shared a strong sense of patriotism were sent to Egypt for training. The day before they were due to depart for the front lines in Gallipoli, they had their picture taken on the Pyramid Cheops.

The photograph hangs in a small room off our den that we call the archive room because it houses all our family photo albums, and because one wall is devoted to photographs of my family. (The room also doubles as a wine storage room, and repository for history and reference books.)

I was in there the other day looking for a bottle of wine and got distracted by the photograph which David framed and hung on “his” wall –– the one we had dedicated to his family photos. My attention was drawn to the two soldiers who had been propped up against the wall of the pyramid by their buddies. They had died in the infirmary the day before. Because they were a part of the valiant 11th Battalion, they didn’t want them to be forgotten. It was to become the last visual record of eighty percent of them. Only 144 survived that bloody battle. Read More 
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