In my mid-30s — poised between the end of a marriage at age 31, and motherhood at age 37 — I took a solo journey to Madagascar. Years earlier, I had been encouraged by a writing teacher to turn a short story into a novel, and by a novelist to submerge in the geography of my story. That advice took me across Madagascar, from the rain forests of Ranomafana to a small dive center on the island of Sakatia.
In determining the island where my two U.S. expatriot characters would meet, I chose Madagascar because of its traditional famidihana ritual. The remains of ancestors are removed from tombs in a community- wide celebration of dance and music and food, re-wrapped, and placed on new mats. The old mats are given to new couples to bless their fertility.
My novel, “Ocean of the Dead,” is one of three novels that sit in a drawer, waiting for my retirement in a cottage by a river. Another novel is about ancestors who inform our lives even though they are no longer physically with us.
All of my storytelling relates to the theme of how we suspend our lives and avoid letting go — the sometimes difficult process of remembering how to find joy.
I referenced these novels recently in an “end of life” letter to my kids, who are 15 and nearly 20. I stated my hope to live long enough to polish the stories.
I identified the people I trust to help them make decisions if I unexpectedly leave this physical world before that happens. I outlined rudimentary wishes for cremation and a celebration of life.
As their solo parent, it always has been important to me to recognize who is in our village. Both of my parents lost a parent when they were young, as did my grandmother. I grew up subtly aware of the way that kind of loss influences the DNA of your life.
I don’t take longevity for granted.
A friend suggested Minnesota Women’s Press might discuss the cultural tendency to reject death as an option, and how to live more intentionally. The result of that idea is now in your hands, and online. Our April 13 event, “Endings,” is the third in our series of MWP Conversations about how women shift narratives to effect change.
Our society needs a re-set about how we (don’t) talk about death, the dying, the elderly, the grieving, and the chronically and terminally ill.
Women featured in this month’s magazine invite us to welcome death as a way to live more consciously — to allow fear and grief to also give birth to joy.