A Daughter Documents Her Mother's Final Days

Though it is nothing she would have wished for, in a relatively short time Nancy Borowick became an expert in photographing death. 
First it was her father, Howie, 58, who died from pancreatic cancer weeks after her photo essay on his illness was published in The Times in late 2013. Almost a year to the day after his death, her mother, Laurel, 59, died last Dec. 6 after a 20-year battle with breast cancer. Ms. Borowick now has a second set of images that tell her mother’s story. 
“We are scared of death and I think that is in large part because we hide it away, out of sight and avoid it until we have to,” she wrote. 
“I’ve gained a lot of perspective since my father died and no moment was wasted this past year with my mother.”
--The New York Times
See more of Nancy Borowick's photos and learn more about her mother, Laurel 

Judith Butler on the Politics of Grief

At The New York Times, George Yancy interviews Judith Butler on the political power of grief as it relates to the recent protests in Ferguson and how racism has rendered black lives ungrievable:
Perhaps we can think about the phrase “black lives matter.” What is implied by this statement, a statement that should be obviously true, but apparently is not? If black lives do not matter, then they are not really regarded as lives, since a life is supposed to matter. So what we see is that some lives matter more than others, that some lives matter so much that they need to be protected at all costs, and that other lives matter less, or not at all. And when that becomes the situation, then the lives that do not matter so much, or do not matter at all, can be killed or lost, can be exposed to conditions of destitution, and there is no concern, or even worse, that is regarded as the way it is supposed to be. The callous killing of Tamir Rice and the abandonment of his body on the street is an astonishing example of the police murdering someone considered disposable and fundamentally ungrievable. 
But, of course, what we are also seeing in the recent and continuing assemblies, rallies and vigils is an open mourning for those whose lives were cut short and without cause, brutally extinguished. The practices of public mourning and political demonstration converge: when lives are considered ungrievable, to grieve them openly is protest. So when people assemble in the street, arrive at rallies or vigils, demonstrate with the aim of opposing this form of racist violence, they are “speaking back” to this mode of address, insisting on what should be obvious but is not, namely, that these lost lives are unacceptable losses.
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January 22, 2015

It's 5am. I wake with a ghastly toothache and read Muriel Rukeyser's poetry to keep from thinking about the pain.

She writes:

Writing is only another way of giving, a courtesy, if you will, and a form of love.


One writes in order to feel.

I've found another woman poet to cling to. Another shelter in the night, a voice that echoes inside me, a book to call home.

This is all desperately cliché and desperately true. Art as salvation, as sustenance, as some kind of second umbilical cord transferring richness and life into my blood.

Yesterday, before work, I couldn't stop crying. I brushed my teeth and my mouth gaped open like I was screaming, only no sound, just tears and the mint-green foam of the toothpaste. I didn't want to leave my mother. I cried and hugged her and she cried too and we stood in the middle of my room holding each other.

Marjorie Maddox - Tape of My Dead Father's Voice from an Old Answering Machine

He keeps telling me he's not at home,
that he'll reply soon. He doesn't know
he's lying, that what's hiding between the space
of words is space he's gone to. He repeats his name,
which is not the name I call him. I call him now,
hear only the unanswerable space answer. Home
is always where we've left, the space that means "before."
I know to keep his voice rewinding until the space
of now begins to answer. At the tone, I can't find a home
for how all space rewinds. Lying, I repeat that I am fine,
take out the home he was, and leave my name.


Some ideas burn me. My skin is different after I touch them.

Art gives my life intensity.

Life is the process of vanishing. Photograph captures this vanishing like no other art can.

Eugene Atget--> his work documented a vanishing world

Photography as a way of possessing the dead.

I cannot look at pictures of my father. It's as though he is the photograph.

Walter Benjamin-->philosopher of fragments // had an interest in ruins, how ruins can be used to rebuild

I obsessively collect quotes, films, books. They will be my ruins.

The years that haunt you.

I love being alone. I love solitude. I am ashamed that I'm not ashamed. What is it in me that can live without people?

You are not trapped. Writing makes you free.

Life only breathes when it is written, only then does it live.

Notes on Safe (1995) by Todd Haynes--> "Are you allergic to the 20th century?"//  the toxicity of the modern world// disease as a state of isolation, a state of being profoundly within ourselves, within our bodies// Carol at the baby shower, gasping for breath, her red ringlets trembling with each gasp // Modern life as something that can make you sick, kill you

Only art feels real, only dreams are tangible.

The loss is unspeakable

I measure life by his death. It isn't 2015; it's another year without him.

I cannot listen to the music he loved. I'm losing him again.

In a live performance of Precious Things, Tori Amos sings "Wash me clean, daddy. Wash this thing, daddy."

You shouldn't read my words. You should run from them.

To love is to be contaminated by other people, no longer separate. You cannot extricate them from you, nor you from them. To live without them is impossible because your life is stained by them, like a dye. They bleed into everything. When they die, you don't really live without them, they are still there in all that is absent and present, spoken and unspoken.

Walter Schels - Life Before Death

Klara Behrens, 83

Maria Hai-Anh Tuyet Cao, 52
Edelgard Clavey, 67

Rita Schoffler, 62

Elly Genthe, 83

Roswitha Pacholleck, 47

Peter Kelling, 64

Heiner Schmitz, 52

Gerda Strech, 68

Beate Taube, 44

Barbara Gröne, 51

I keep starring at these portraits by Walter Schels that capture people alive and then dead. They are from the series "Life Before Death." They unsettle me. As I look at the portraits, I contemplate my own death. I think about the reality that, one day, I will die. It's startling to look into the eyes of the men and women when they are alive, to see the life in their faces, and then to see them dead, still, completely lifeless. What is death? How can a person cease to be? It is a terrifying mystery. If you follow the link below, you can learn the stories of each participant in the series and hear their thoughts on dying. Some were scared, others were at peace with death.

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Grief Is At The Heart Of The Babadook

At The Daily Beast, Tim Teeman provides a nuanced review of the critically acclaimed horror film The Babadook, arguing that the "real monster" is grief itself and the ways in which loss can haunt, debilitate, and almost destroy us. The movie centers around a widow's battle to save her son from a menacing presence in their home.
The film is not only scary and disturbing, it is one of the most moving—and true—movies about loss and grief, and how they can corrode and consume, yet also make us, re-shape us, change us.
But the death of Amelia’s husband is not just the heart of the film, but—for this viewer—the heart of its subterranean message. This film is about the aftermath of death; how its remnants destroy long after the dead body has been buried or burned; it’s about how a loved one’s death can erode, and then threaten to kill a family.
Yet it is significant that when the Babadook seems to take over Amelia it passes over her: a shadow of darkness; she may swallow it, or its horror, at one point. In its presence--jolting, sudden, horrific—the monster is the monster of grief. The grief in this house is extreme of course; this is a horror movie, after all. It controls, differently, mother and son. It warps them and yet makes them, and horrifies them both as it does so—just as grief does.
But it is another great and piercing truth of The Babadook that the reality of grief, the horrible truth, is that—unlike what you typically see on TV and in movies—is that you don’t get over the loss of a loved one. Time yanks and chivvies you forward, edges are softened, life trajectories evolve, but years down the line that baseline, incontrovertible grief is still there.
You can be doing some cleaning and bam, you’re floored. You can be working, and then you remember. Suddenly, you are crying, breathless, raging, and on quieter days just going through the motions. “Moving on” from the death of a loved one is rarely uniform.
 The Babadook is the shape of grief: all-enveloping, shape-shifting, black, here intensely, terrifying, then gone. The house decays around Amelia and Samuel, their world narrows and becomes mad, undealable with. Energy is sucked from them, the world around them becomes impossible—the Babadook of grief and loss exerts its force everywhere.

Just as in real life, you can come to live with grief, so Amelia and Sam do at the end of the film. It doesn’t have to destroy you, but it may never leave. Oddly you nurture it, it is part of you, and inescapably part of your past, present, and future.
But it has its place. It has a presence, it remains potentially destructive, but all we can do is attempt to marshal it.
Grief is part of us, living with loss is part of us. We do not “get over it.” Grief, like the Babadook, never leaves. Terrible loss may never be surmounted. But it needn’t warp us, destroy us, kill us. You can accord it a place, and then—hopefully—like Amelia and Sam find a way to get on with your life. Rather than terrifying me, The Babadook moved me to tears—like Into The Woods, it is an unflinching exposition of the realities of grieving and loss, but in very unexpected, and vivid, clothing.

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An App That Transforms Grief Into Music

Technology is changing the way we grieve, or at least giving us new channels through which to express grief. My blog is itself an example of the evolving relationship between technology and mourning. So I was intrigued when I heard about an app--currently in the development stage--that can be used to turn one's grief into music. The app is called Flutter and it offers new possibilities for coping with loss and expressing difficult emotions like grief, loneliness, and despair.
At first glance, it's just a music generator. You touch anywhere on the screen to build and manipulate a track, changing its key. But it’s designed with an intent to be more than another music app. Flutter has been built from its core to be an easily manipulated soundtrack to your emotional state. Simply by dragging your thumb, the app can echo anything from anger to comfort.
"The ways in which we grieve has changed immeasurably thanks to social media and ubiquitous personal technologies; we’re in closer contact, almost all the time, with people important to us," Williams writes. "At the same time though, young people—who are using that connective-technology the most—are the most vulnerable when it comes to dealing with death. The complex mix of emotions are difficult to navigate, and you often suffer in silence, unable to express the way you feel. We wanted to understand if there was a more meaningful way for adolescents to express themselves, and if so, how they could integrate this into their daily lives."
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Hilary Mantel on Grief

At The Guardian, Hilary Mantel writes about C.S. Lewis's classic memoir, A Grief Observed.
Grief is like fear in the way it gnaws the gut. Your mind is on a short tether, turning round and round. You fear to focus on your grief but cannot concentrate on anything else. You look with incredulity at those going about their ordinary lives. There is a gulf between you and them, as if you had been stranded on an island for lepers; indeed, Lewis wonders whether a grieving person should be put in isolation like a leper, to avoid the awkwardness of encounters with the unbereaved, who don’t know what to say and, though they feel goodwill, exhibit something like shame. 
Gradually the shape of loss emerges, but it is complex and ever-changing. Grief gives the whole of life “a permanently provisional feeling”. Sorrow is “a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape”. The dead person recedes, losing selfhood, losing integrity, becoming an artefact of memory. The process creates panic and guilt; are we remembering properly? Are we remembering enough? A year passes, but each day the loss strikes us as an absolute novelty. When Lewis wrote A Grief Observed, he did not objectify his grief in the language of psychology, but alternated between the terms available to, on the one hand, the spiritual seeker, and on the other hand the stricken child. 
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