Tag Archives: death

Who Will Show Up?

13 Apr

I heard a story on the news that a man had died ten years ago, and due to automatic payments, was only now discovered when the money ran out. I went online and couldn’t find the story. The reason is because this story is NOT that uncommon.

Take this story from 2014 – in Pontiac, Michigan, one day in 2007, a 49-year-old woman named Pia Farrenkopf just disappeared. This was not uncommon for her–she was known to travel a lot. Her bank was set up to autopay her bills. No one thought anything of it. After they realized no one was mowing her grass, someone called the cops. They knocked at the door, police didn’t see anything amiss, so they went away. The grass continued to grow–neighbors took it upon themselves to mow the lawn for her.

In a way, that’s kind of heartening. Eventually, the money ran out in her bank account, and the bank foreclosed on the property. Even then, apparently, no one bothered to clean out the house; but then again, houses were being foreclosed all the time, so maybe there was a delay. Then on inspection, a hole in the roof was noticed, and only then did someone look into the garage. The body of Pia was discovered in the back seat, the keys in the ignition.

Pia kept to herself, she disappeared for weeks at a time (presumably to go back to Germany), and the only family she had (her sister), Pia was estranged from. Meanwhle, her mummified body was sitting in the back of her car in the garage.

Or take this story from 2019–a elderly man was discovered dead in an apartment after 11 years. Again, the rent for this Nantes, France flat was being paid automatically. But because no one bothered to check, they had to figure out when he died because of the expired food marks in the fridge.

And that’s all this news story has on it–they have to fill the rest of the story about an elderly woman in Spain who had been dead for four years before someone noticed. The clue… her laundry that was hung out to dry hadn’t changed. Now since we don’t have a lot of detail here, I’m going to assume that the laundry was sitting on a rack inside the house. But how sad would it be if it was outside the house… people tend to have the same clothes, so would it be that unusual? It was only when neighbors noticed the same clothes after four years that they decided to look inside the window and see the legs sticking out from behind some furniture on the ground.

It’s easy to say, “Well, this is elderly people, and since they don’t get out as often as they should, so it’s easy to miss them.” But this can happen to anyone–the difference seems to be “how long can you stopping pay your bills before someone notices?” When you isolate yourself from everyone, no one’s going to notice if you’re not there… and that’s incredibly sad.

So what I am trying to say? Leave your house every so often. Get out. Talk to people you normally wouldn’t talk to. There’s lot of opportunities for this–attend religious services, workout, go to the bar, join a club… whatever! The pandemic is ending–you’re out of excuses. It’s so easy to be isolated in the modern era; don’t be that way. Maybe go read one of my my books in the park? However, if money is tight, and a $1.99 is too much go ahead and download one of my stories for free. But get out of the house–I mean it.

Happy Death Day

11 Mar

It’s a weird anniversary and even weirder to remember. My mother died twenty eight years ago tomorrow. It was sudden, unexpected, and changed my life forever. But I have trouble remembering it every year. Why can something so profound be forgettable?

I didn’t grow up with elaborate remembrance rituals for the dead. The belief I grew up with is that they’re in a better place, that there was a purpose for it, and that we need to celebrate their life. None of which helps the grieving person at the moment, but what can you say? “Life is chaos, be kind?”

And at the time, truly nothing can help, except being there for the person in that moment. However, at some point, we have to move on with our life and not wallow in our grief. I return to my mother’s gravesite every time I come back to my hometown, and because she’s not the only one, I visit my grandparents, my brother, and two of my childhood friends graves as well.

However, it was much later in life that I was introduced to the concept of “yahrzeit,” or the anniversary of a loved one’s death. It’s a simple ceremony–you light a 25-hour candle, say a prayer, sometimes put up their picture, and welcome the spirit of your departed into the house. Think of it like Dia de los Muertos, but with a flexible schedule.

During that day, I feel as if the spirit of my departed one is with us in the house, sharing our lives, and it’s a very moving experience. Is the actual spirit with us or does it just force me to remember their lives for one day? It doesn’t matter. It reminds us that those who got us there are not lost in our memory–even if I forgot it last year–and that they can be with us.

I do this with all my departed relatives, as does my wife, and have all the pictures nearby in a box. I do need to buy another candle this year, but since I’m writing about it, it’s more likely I’ll remember this year. Sure, I could do it anytime, but there’s more of a connection on the actual date than any other time. Eventually, no one is left to remember them–and at some point, us–but as long as we remember their stories, they are more than just a name on a page or a stone somewhere.

Well, that’s depressing. Do you do something similar? Do you find comfort in grave sites or memorial services? Is it a waste of time? Let me know in the comments below!

And while you’re at it, check out some of my books! Or if $1.99 is too high a hurdle for you, download some of my stories for free!

Sometimes Madame LaFarge Has to Die

23 Feb

As an author, I get it–it helps to kill off a main character now and then to keep the stakes real, and not feel like a comic book. However, it needs to be important to the plot, and not just… happen.

I don’t wanna give away the spoiler for what I was reading, but man, it really irked me when one of the main characters (not the POV character) suddenly dies. I had to actually go back and read the scene again because it happened so fast! The character just dies and the author just moved on to the next scene! Apparently the author addressed this in a later interview, “We were telling a war story, people die in war, and I realized that our characters hadn’t really felt that loss yet.”

Seriously? When the author killed another character earlier in the book, at least it was the chapter end, and it was very obvious. “Oh, you blew his head off.” It was important, it was clear, and even if it seemed random, it advanced the plot. This read like an afterthought. At this point, I should remember what my father-in-law said, “If you don’t like my story, write your own!”

But I also remember what my friend Nathan said when he had to read A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. He said, “I love Madame Lafarge. It’s obvious the author loves Madame Lafarge. But the entire plot was leading up to her and the guillotine. Sometimes Madame Lafarge has to die.”

I liked this phrase so much that–although it’s not one of my maxims–it is one of the guiding stars when I write my stories. It IS important to have the stakes be high in a story. In a comic book, the main characters will never die. Or they’ll die, but come back in a couple episodes. Or they’ll die and become the villain. But they always come back. When you have to kill a character, the other characters should have to deal with the consequences. It SHOULD make the struggle real. In real life, people die suddenly and without warning. But this is a story–you don’t invest several hundred pages just to kill someone off as an afterthought. That’s not making the struggle real–that’s a late edit.

Oh well, not my universe. Thinking back to Dickens, my grandpa used to misquote the famous lines at the climax, probably he never read the book either. “It is a far better thing I do… then to say hello to you!” I thought it was hilarious. But what do you think? Have you run into senseless deaths in stories? Killing off the POV character at the end of a book is material for another post. But have you ever thrown a book across the room because you were so mad? Let me know in the comments below!

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