Category Archives: Death

Hot Air

Up In Smoke

The other day I wrote a bit about teddy bears and other silly mementos to mark the passing of a human. The gist was if anyone tries to memorialize me through the use of a teddy bear or a crucifix, my dead soul will violate the physical laws of the Universe and haunt the crap out of the person or persons who committed that atrocity. [No link; I’m too lazy to dig it up this AM.]

A few days later, I came upon this:

Cubs Urn

It’s a Chicago Cubs-branded urn, sold by an outfit called The Eternal Image Group. Some perverse part of me wants to have my ashes sequestered eternally in something like this.

Then again, wouldn’t that be the equivalent of hell? (Which, BTW, I don’t believe in but if my Earthly remains are shut away in a Cubs urn, I would indeed be in hell.)

[h/t to Bleed Cubbie Blue.]

I Wanna Die

Zeke Emanuel, brother of my beloved hometown Chicago’s mayor Rahm, has written quite the controversial  piece for The Atlantic magazine.


Zeke (L) & Rahm Emanuel

[Photo by Annie Leibovitz]

Zeke, a noted bioethicist and medical school professor, says he wants to die at 75. This flies in the face of everything we’ve stood for in this holy land. The search for eternal youth and pushing back our mortality have been driving forces in America as much as eating sawdust-y fast food, screeching about taxes, and trying to catch glimpses of sideboob.

The mayor’s bro isn’t up for living to the ripe old age of 100. Now this is something I’ve been saying for years. Why would anyone want to live past, say, 85 even? Sure, sure, sure, you may point out that one oddball, that outlier who’s 89 and still swimming laps and going for long hikes. I hate that guy anyway, no matter who he is.



He’s a scourge, an indictment, a reminder of what an achy, flatulent, overweight, in need of a nap curmudgeon with a scalpful of precancerous growths, a prostate the size of a cantaloupe, arthritis in every joint, achilles tendonitis, a bum hip, balky knees, hair over every inch of my body, wreck I am. Man, I hate that guy.

That slim, trim, maniacally grinning, running, swimming, salad-eating 89 y.o. loon is proof of nothing. There’s one of him for every million other 89-ers who can barely get out of bed in the morning and/or can’t even remember where the floor is.

Aging is something that can’t be beaten. Breakdown is built into our very cells. Hell, stories have been written since the time of the ancient Greeks about the folly of humans who find a way to live forever. Fraudsters like Deepak Chopra to this day makes scads of dough trying to convince the criminally gullible that they, too, can live indefinitely.



Ivan Albright’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray”

Zeke Emanuel writes that yes, dying is a loss, both to the dead person and her/his survivors. But, he points out:

[H]ere is a simple truth that many of us seem to resist: living too long is also a loss. It renders many of us, if not disabled, then faltering and declining, a state that may not be worse than death but is nonetheless deprived. It robs us of our creativity and ability to contribute to work, society, the world. It transforms how people experience us, relate to us, and, most important, remember us. We are no longer remembered as vibrant and engaged but as feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic.

I have a pal whose parents lived in the Netherlands. They were diagnosed with cancer within months of each other. It wasn’t that they were told they were going to die within the next three months but, in that country, there is no mania for life, no compulsion to live even if living is only a technical distinction. They elected to check out, together, at a time of their choosing. They threw a party for themselves and then, with the help of the Netherlands’ health care system, they went to a place and were ushered out, peacefully, with dignity, and well before the cancer that was growing within them could turn their lives into hell.

That makes a lot more sense than tilting against the windmill of death.

My mother, almost precisely a year ago, was found an inch from death on her bedroom floor by my brother. She’d been laying there for three days. Poor Joey had been overwhelmed with other responsibilities and problems and, for the only time since she’d turned frail and elderly, hadn’t checked in with Ma for those days. Wouldn’t you know it — that’s just when she fell and shattered her hips next to her bed.

When Joey saw Ma laying there, he was certain she was gone. She wasn’t, though. I wrote at the time that I wished she had died then and there. I knew that, alive, she’d be sentenced to a “life” of misery. And so she was.

Ma lost her home. She spent her remaining five months in hospitals and nursing homes, something she’d told me countless times she couldn’t even bear to think about. She was in great pain and she gradually lost touch with reality.

Oddly, some members of the fam. shook their fingers at me. How could you wish our sweet mother/grandmother/great-grandmother to be dead? they said.

I answered, Because she wasn’t really living.

Nursing Home


Emanuel writes of those who’ve bought into pushing death back as far as it can go:

So American immortals may live longer than their parents, but they are likely to be more incapacitated. Does that sound very desirable? Not to me.

The situation becomes of even greater concern when we confront the most dreadful of all possibilities: living with dementia and other acquired mental disabilities. Right now approximately 5 million Americans over 65 have Alzheimer’s; one in three Americans 85 and older has Alzheimer’s. And the prospect of that changing in the next few decades is not good. Numerous recent trials of drugs that were supposed to stall Alzheimer’s—much less reverse or prevent it—have failed so miserably that researchers are rethinking the whole disease paradigm that informed much of the research over the past few decades. Instead of predicting a cure in the foreseeable future, many are warning of a tsunami of dementia—a nearly 300 percent increase in the number of older Americans with dementia by 2050.

Half of people 80 and older with functional limitations. A third of people 85 and older with Alzheimer’s. That still leaves many, many elderly people who have escaped physical and mental disability. If we are among the lucky ones, then why stop at 75? Why not live as long as possible?

Even if we aren’t demented, our mental functioning deteriorates as we grow older. Age-associated declines in mental-processing speed, working and long-term memory, and problem-solving are well established. Conversely, distractibility increases. We cannot focus and stay with a project as well as we could when we were young. As we move slower with age, we also think slower.

I’m with Zeke. I’ll be more than happy to check out at the age of 75. Just stuff my ashes into a Cubs urn. They still probably won’t have won the World Series by that late date.

Hot Air

Who Cares?

We care about many things in this holy land.

We are a diverse group of some 320 million souls, passionately concerned with things like guns, football, which movie had the highest box office figures this past weekend, whatever Kanye West has to say, the Kardashians, and those idiots who sell duck calls.

Oh, we care, deeply, loudly, and, often as not, irrationally.

One thing we don’t care much about is what happens to our parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, husbands and wives, and any others who’ve had the poor foresight to grow old.

And the funny thing is, we’re all headed, inexorably, toward that moment when we are unable to lift ourselves out of bed, unable to recognize our children, unsure of what day, month or year this is, incapable of contributing to and participating in this competitive, free market world.

That is, unless we’re lucky enough to go to sleep one night and fail to wake up in the morning. Many people consider that a tragedy. But it pales compared to watching a human being waste away as one health care facility after another says, Hey kids, you’ve gotta move your mother now! Her insurance is running out. Her bank balance is approaching zero.

My mother, for one, won’t ever vote again, so no politician really cares about her. She won’t ever be able to contribute money to any lobbying groups or professional associations or advocacy organizations, so no one with any clout will speak up for her.

She’s superfluous. A drain on society. A taker.

And many of us loathe takers. So many, in fact, that we’ve elected to Congress a whole raft of men and women whose whole purpose as public servants, it seems, is to protect the rest of us from takers.

They’ll be damned if they’re going to spend our precious tax dollars on all those takers.

So rather than provide reasonable, comfortable, resting spots for our fellow aged human beings, rather than financing dignified send-offs for those preparing to take that mandatory plunge into heaven or hell or the chilling nothingness, we instead give them…, well, nothing.

Because we don’t care.

A friend of mine comes from the Netherlands. Her parents were elderly and sick. They were in pain with no hope to ever lead productive, fulfilling lives again. So, in their homeland, they were given the option of convening all their friends and loved ones for a big going-away party where they could say goodbye and tell everybody how much they loved them. People ate and drank, there were laughter and tears, embraces, and closure. Then each of the parents was given an injection and within moments, was dead.

What a way to go.

We don’t do that here because we care about something called the sanctity of life. I wouldn’t argue with those who espouse that, only every time I see my mother, I pass roomsful of people lying in their own shit, their eyes aflame with dementia, their sleep disturbed by three or four other hapless souls down the hall wailing like banshees, their rooms flooded with harsh, fluorescent lighting, their arms pierced with needles, and tubes coming out of their urethras so that the janitorial staff won’t have to spend all day mopping up piss. I’m not seeing much sanctity when I go see Ma.

The closest things come to that is when Ma stirs out of her private misery long enough beg her god to take her, now.

I’d love to throw Ma a going-away party, the way they do it in the Netherlands. I’d do it because I don’t care about any “sanctity of life.” I care about Ma.

Life’s Hot Air

My Wish For My Mother

The opening line of The Stranger by Albert Camus goes like this:

Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know.

That is perhaps the most deft and revealing introduction to a character in the history of the literature. With those two short sentences, Camus tells us everything we need to know about Meursault, the eponymous l’étranger. The rest of the book is detail.

Maman, of course, is the informal French for Mother.

I don’t know when Sue Glab is going to die. But I want it to be now. This minute.

I’ve been in Chicago the last few days. My mother, who had a terrible fall in August and has been bedridden since, is hanging on to life by a slender thread. She’s suffering physically, mentally, and in her spirit.

An infection is beginning to cause her body to eat away at itself. Her mind is going. She hardly recognizes me.

Now and again, she slips into a brief lucidity and begins praying to god to take her away. Thursday she looked heavenward, raised her hands (as much as she could), and wondered aloud, “I’ve been a good woman; why are you doing this to me?”

Throughout the years she’s had a spotty relationship with her god. She’s never renounced him or stopped believing he could help her. But at times, I think, she wanted very much to tell him off good.

Now, she feels she’ll be getting the chance to talk to him face to face very soon.


Happier, Healthier, Younger

When I go back to Chicago later this week, I’m going to bring her a rosary. It’ll make her feel a tiny bit better.

Then again, I hope I get the call that tells me she won’t be needing anything anymore. Tonight, maybe. Or tomorrow. I don’t know.

I envy her the capacity to appeal to her god. If I was a believer, I’d say, “Listen, big boy, quit playing around with my mother! Take her away. Stop being such a goddamned bully.”

Hah. Goddamned bully. As if he could damn himself.

My mother, at times, was as tough as nails. I could no easier get a fib past her or change her mind about a grounding than I could flap my arms and take flight. Physically, she developed a pair of guns by making a weekly batch of homemade bread loaves. She’d knead an enormous panful of dough for long, long minutes every Friday.

Believe me, I didn’t want to mess with her.

Now, she’s skeletal. She resembles nothing more than a bony robin fledgling who’s fallen out of a tree. She can’t even hold up her pencil and one of her beloved crossword puzzles. She hasn’t been able to do that for months.

She is, in fact, dead already. Only her lungs and heart don’t know it.

Woody Allen once said, “Life is full of misery, loneliness, and suffering — and it’s all over much too soon.”

A joke, sure. But humor at its highest level works because it’s undergirded by truth. And today Allen’s evaluation of life is borne out in spades by my mother’s continued existence. She is miserable, lonely, and suffering. That is the sum total of her life at this moment.

And when it’s over, it won’t be soon enough.

Your Daily Hot Air

Life & Death

First, a preamble: I acknowledge it is good policy to eat well and exercise in order to live a healthier, more comfortable life. (Along those lines, I’m also in favor of good weather and traffic safety, but we’ll tackle those controversial issues another day.)

Anyway, two deaths in the news in recent weeks have grabbed my attention. James Gandolfini and Randy Udall. Both died relatively young. Gandolfini was 51 and Udall 61.


Gandolfini & Udall

Randy Udall was a member of the storied, multi-generational political family dynasty of the West and Southwest. His kin included Mark, a senator from Colorado, Morris, a member of the House from Arizona, and Stewart, Secretary of the Interior under JFK and LBJ. Other Udalls began holding political office as far back as the 1880s and a brand new generation is settling into legislatures and statehouses as we speak. Here’s the Udall political family tree.


You Probably Can’t Read This, But You Get The Idea

Gandolfini, in case you’re a Nepalese hermit, was the beloved actor who played Tony in the landmark cable series, The Sopranos. His family didn’t exist in real life but it, too, has been treed.




Two known guys; two shortened lives. Conventional wisdom has it, though, that Udall’s exit was an unfortunate, tragic happenstance. Gandolfini, the CW holds, has nobody to blame but himself for his early departure.

The wags say Gandolfini pretty much killed himself. Udall’s death, on the other hand, is being positioned as somehow organic and in harmony with nature — “natural causes,” the news stories insist.

That’s because Udall was a hiker, an amateur naturalist, thin as a rail, brown from the sun, his lung capacity probably rivaling that of a harbor seal.

James Gandolfini was a jolly mound of rigatoni- and braciole-derived heft.

Rigatoni & Braciole

The Smoking Gun

For all the food fetishists out there (and Bloomington, believe me, is crawling with them), I’ve got a bit of news for you: They’re both in the same place right now.

That is, six feet under.

No, not the HBO series. Buried.

I can’t help but thinking a lot of folks believe they can hold off check out time indefinitely. I’m loaded with Facebook friends who put up urgent posts that meats, breads, the wrong kind of fish, prepared foods, non-local foods, cookies, cheeses, pasteurized milk, rhubarb, peanuts, hot dogs, cold cuts, reduced fat anything, couscous, frozen yogurt, trail mix, granola, energy bars, bran muffins, blueberry pies, rice cakes, smoothies, bananas, and pretty much everything else in the world that’s edible are as dangerous as so many cyanide cocktails.

I have no idea what these people eat but whatever it is, they’re not happy about it. That’s because, I’m certain, most food fetishists aren’t terribly fond of the whole idea of sticking things into their mouths.

James Gandolfini dug digging into an enormous plate of melon and prosciutto risotto or truffled polenta. And you know what? He was happy as a clam before, during, and after mealtime.

It’s a good bet poor old Randy Udall had to make do with a garden salad minus any olives, Parmigiano-Reggiano, anchovies, feta, or — horrors! — croutons. I can’t imagine him patting his nearly non-existent belly with a satisfied smile on his face.

Udall swore up and down he derived happiness from trudging through miles and miles of wilderness, braving rainstorms, mosquitoes, poison ivy, and all the other health propagandists doing the same thing. He died while on a solo backpack hike along the Wind River Range in Wyoming, his walking poles still in his hands. Gandolfini died in Italy, probably with a toothpick between his fingers.

I’m sure they were both happy. I’m just as sure they’re both dead.

Dead Man’s Curve

This is the only death song I could find that isn’t sickeningly sweet or terrifyingly ghoulish. The best I can say about is that it fits.

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