Tag Archives: death

Things not to say to the ophthalmology nurse

Having finally decided to commit to cataract surgery, I made an appointment with the ophthalmologist to set it up. Perhaps to encourage me to stay committed, they presented me with the consent form—although nothing is making me show up, it’s much harder to think of changing my mind now that I’ve signed the paperwork. Consent forms are the sort of thing I make myself read through even at the best of times, which a Mercury retrograde period is not, so I plunged in. There were no real surprises in the form, not counting the one reference to hysterectomies.* I acknowledged that the doctor isn’t guaranteeing good results, that he discussed the risks with me, and so on. They swear they’ll ask me my name before the surgery begins, which is reassuring, although I hope they also ask me which eye the cataract is in.

Amongst all these disclaimers and promises, the form stated that any tissues or organs removed in the course of surgery “will be disposed of in a respectful manner.” Until I read that, I’d never given that issue any thought. But that phrase conjured up images of a tiny coffin—dark wood, lined in pink satin, and about the size of a sugar cube—in which my cataracted lens would be laid to rest. It would be marked with a wee gravestone, commemorating my lens’s lifespan. A chip of marble would do nicely, perhaps a scrap from a full-sized gravestone.


Like this, only smaller. Lots smaller. (photo credit: Mike Schaffner via photopin cc)

My only explanation for what happened next was my growing nervousness. As the reality of what I was doing sank in (omg, i’m really going through with this? eye surgery? how soon? ack!), I started to ramble out loud. The poor nurse got to hear about the micro-coffin. He looked up from his computer and I could see him mentally reviewing my last sentence or two. And then there was that second where he must have decided that no, I really wasn’t making sense.

He stared.

I shrugged, smiled tightly, and flipped over the next page of the consent form to continue reading.

(Note to self: be really, really mundane when at medical appointments.)


*How many of you went back to the first sentence to verify that I’d said “cataract surgery”?

Autumnal reading

I don’t do summer reading as such. Yes, I read during the summer, but since I choose whatever comes to hand, that’s no different than what I read during the rest of the year. But over the past several years, my autumnal reading has developed distinct characteristics. I have a tendency to read about serious topics such as aging and death in the fall (which why I’m calling this autumnal reading rather than fall reading: it’s not because I’m trying to sound British, but because “autumnal” sounds a bit more funereal to me than “fall” does). Fall inspires this in many people—it’s the fall movies that are Oscar contenders; summer movies are more “just for fun”—but I never expected it to show up in my reading list.

Pile of books with maple leaf

It started innocuously enough in 2007. Having read James Hillman’s The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling at the end of that summer, I wanted to read something else of his. Although Hillman has written on many subjects, the next book of his that I happened to find in a used book store was A Terrible Love of War, and I was eager enough to start reading it right away, which meant it became autumnal reading. It was certainly relevant to my developing autumnal reading theme as it is an exploration of why we say we abhor war and want peace, but act as if we believed the opposite.

One book does not a trend make, of course. The following year, I hadn’t made any conscious choice to tackle somber themes in my autumnal reading; again, it just happened. I had bought the anthology For Keeps: Women Tell the Truth About Their Bodies, Growing Older, and Acceptance as a Christmas present for a friend, and I’d done so absurdly early. So here was this book, just lying there in my apartment. Now, never mind that many books lie around my apartment unread for years on end, the fact that this book was guaranteed to leave in the near future drew my attention to it. And sure, I probably could have borrowed it back from the friend to read it. But no, I decided to read it as gently as possible before passing it on, which meant that I read it during the fall of 2008.

By 2009, having definitely reached midlife, I approached it as I approach all major life changes: I set out to read about it. This meant I filled the fall and early winter with In the Ever After: Fairy Tales and the Second Half of Life and Once Upon a Midlife by Allen B. Chinen, and Navigating Midlife: Using Typology as a Guide by Eleanor S. Corlett. (Perhaps there are more standard books for learning about midlife, but my reading tastes dictate a slightly more offbeat take on the subject.) Even though I had an entire spring and summer to work with, somehow I ended up reading those books during the fall.

Last year? Sacred Dying: Creating Rituals for Embracing the End of Life by Megory Anderson, a book I wish had existed back when my parents and aunt died and which I highly recommend to just about anyone having to deal with death. 2010 also brought me The Poetry of War by James Anderson Winn and Faith and Magick in the Armed Forces: A Handbook for Pagans in the Military by Stefani Elizabeth Barner. I also read Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life by James Hollis that year, but in May. Maybe reading it out of season is why I didn’t like it as much as the others!

Although the unseasonably warm weather has meant that autumn really hasn’t felt all that much like autumn this year, my current reading continues the theme: Dark Nights of the Soul: A Guide to Finding Your Way Through Life’s Ordeals by Thomas Moore. It’ll carry me through the better part of another week, after which I haven’t decided what to read next. Perhaps a quick, shallow book to cleanse the palate, so to speak, and then another book on midlife. Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by Richard Rohr looks interesting…

At first, it was just coincidental. Now, I find myself saving my “gloom and doom” books for fall. It seems counter-intuitive that reading about death, aging, and/or war as leaves are falling, temperatures are dropping, and days are getting shorter would be a pleasant experience, but it is, somehow. It all fits.


It’s October, and while stores are traditionally decked in autumnal orange and brown, for years now they’ve also been sporting a spring-like pink. October, as you no doubt know, is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. No doubt you know this because NBCAM has been more successful than many special months, right up there with Black History Month and Women’s History Month (the only other months I can think of without having to Google them). I’m guessing awareness of breast cancer is pretty widespread in North America. There’s no need for a special announcement: the stores just turn pink and you know.

I do not always approach the Month of Pink with the solemnity that its subject matter suggests. Pink is one of my favorite colors, the result being that I own a lot of pink clothing, have ample amounts of pink yarn in my stash, and own a pink home accessory or two. My first thought when I see a pink display at a store is usually more along the lines of “Ooh, pink. Pretty!” rather than remembering why such a display exists in the first place. This is probably not what all the people  who’ve worked so hard to promote breast cancer awareness had in mind. I know I should be more mindful of the context. I’m female and I’ve reached the early mammogram stage of life: it’s probably in my own best interest that NCBAM has been so successful.

I can guess at some of the reasons pink was chosen as the color of the cause. It’s the “girl” color (men can get breast cancer, but I’m guessing it doesn’t loom as a threat the way it does for women). It suggests spring and new beginnings (remember Herod’s “rosy-fingered Dawn”?). It’s calming as long as it doesn’t get either too icy or too magenta-y. Plus, using it has that little fillip of irony: that delicate color symbolizing a tough fight to get breast cancer more noticed and better funded, not to mention the fight for survival itself. (The anti-war group Code Pink’s use of the color has similar associations for me.) But when you’re thinking about all these positive life-affirming connotations, it doesn’t really encourage thinking about the reason pink is in the national consciousness to begin with.

There is, of course, another major observance in October: Halloween/Samhain. Halloween leans toward candy, mischief, costumes, and scary fun. Samhain, to put it bluntly, has death as a theme. I think of Samhain as October goes on and the season becomes most definitely fall, with shorter days, colder winds, and piles of leaves. Fall is lovely, yes, but much of its beauty is tied to death. It is not a pink season.

In the past month, I’ve learned that two friends of mine have .  . . um . . . something. As I write this, neither has received an official diagnosis of breast cancer—it’s still early on in the diagnostic process and both have atypical symptoms—but definitely something breast-related is seriously wrong for both of them. We’re barely into October, but I’ve seen a few pink displays already, and this year they’re giving me some serious cognitive dissonance. It’s still pink, it’s still pretty, but now there’s a chill to the color that wasn’t there for me last year.