Can You Play This at My Funeral?

I have a playlist on Spotify called “A Celtic Gathering” and it’s all my favorite traditional Irish and Scottish songs, and it’s over 25 hours of music. It’s my pride and joy.

And I want it played at my funeral.

I know SUPER macabre for this blog, but I want my wishes known. As the daughter of a line of cemetery employees, I’ve come to be in favor of the “Good Death.”

If you don’t know Caitlin Doughty, she’s the purveyor of the Order of the Good Death, and I love everything she stands for. I mean, by purveyor, she encourages people to have Good Deaths, she is not a murderer.

And what do I mean about a “Good Death”? I mean, everyone in your family (and your friends too) know what you want at your funeral so there isn’t any questioning or wondering about whether she would have wanted/liked dot dot dot. It’s just there, already known. Do you want to be cremated? Got it. Do you want to be buried with a tree? Cool. Do you want to be blast out of a cannon with glitter? Go for it! But tell someone first!

So, get to planning. And as blog as my witness, I will have “A Celtic Gathering” played at my funeral. But hopefully not before I get to listen to it a few more times.




Like anyone who has lived enough years, I’ve lost a loved one. And on the day of their death, I try to reminisce and think about when they were alive. Reflect on their life. Remember who they were.

Which is a very sad event indeed, and it usually leaves me crying by the end. I miss them, and it’s so hard to be here without them.

But what we should always remember is that you are a reflection of the people you love. You are just a mirror image of the people that you call friends because your likeness recognizes likeness in them. And so, if you’re missing a loved one, simply be the mirror to their life. Live as if you lived for them. Reflect and be reflected. And you will live and walk in their light.

-dedicated to Neil Venitsky. Thank you for believing in your dream so that I could believe in mine.


“It’s gonna pass like a kidney stone, but it’ll pass!”

All time passes. That’s the one thing we can count on. That when you’re having fun, time will have flown. And when you’re not, it’ll be all you can do just to kill time. But it trudges forward. Every second. Every minute. Every hour. Every week.  Every month. Every year. 

And that seems pretty foreboding. Sand in an hourglass kind of foreboding. 

But notice I didn’t say every day. Because you can decide what happens in a single day. And hopefully, you’ll choose to recognize that your suffering is passing too and not just the good times. Because that’s the thing about time; it heals. It may rub salt in the wound first and leave a scar but it does heal. 

I just hope you like how you spend your time. You will never get more of it, but you’ll learn to do more with less. 

Date with Death

I was actually typing up an entirely different blogpost when my computer’s battery percentage caught my eye. It’s nearly dead, and the icon is red, urging me to go get my charger, as if everything is so urgent. (It’s the same with the dashboard lights in your car. I swear the alarms go off when you are running low on window washer fluid.)

And so, I do what any lazy one of us does: I procrastinate. I let the battery run down to the wire, playing a terrible game with my valuables. Will I lose all of the words I have just typed out when the screen goes black, or will I get my charger in time to reboot it up quickly, leaving me where I left off?

I wonder all of this, and then I wonder, if somehow, the fact that my computer keeps track of when it is going to die somehow makes it worse.

I mean, what if people were notified in the same way about when they were going to die? Like a special watch or an egg timer that you kept in your pocket that incessantly clicked. Would you want that device? Or more to the point, would you want that knowledge?

Of course, some of us don’t get that choice; it is thrusted upon us. Terminal patients are given an estimate. Some exceed the limit, some don’t. But they are more or less told when their lives are going to end. And so, you have to decide what to do with your time left. You either make amends or you make memories. You do what you can with the best that you have.


Isn’t that what we are all doing anyway? We may not know when we are going to die, but we know it will happen. This encourages us to make decisions and forego others. We’re all doing what we can with the best that we have, whether we know it or not.

And you may argue that people with terminal illnesses are different because they know the time they have, and it isn’t much. A sense of urgency is not lost on them like it is on the rest of us.

But I have to wonder if it actually is. If we’re all not procrastinating bigger decisions, just letting our batteries run out, no matter how long we have. Because even if we know when we’ll die, does it make it any easier to live right now? Shouldn’t we all be living like tomorrow is our last day?

The end of this story is that I eventually got up and grabbed my charger before it was too late.

I only want to make sure that it isn’t too late for you, either.

Sylvester and Tweety Bird

WARNING: If you are sensitive to animal on animal violence (otherwise known as predation), please do not read further. Instead, go to this link. It’s little penguins chasing a butterfly. You’re welcome.

If you are reading this, I am assuming you have ignored the warning above. Which is great. I love rebels. Continue.


I wish I was making this story up. (Here goes nothing…)

There is a stray cat that lives outside of my workplace. It’s sort of like having a pet at work because I look for him or her throughout the day only to find him or her sleeping in the sun, or climbing trees, or just being generally adorable.

Today was not one of those days.

I came into my office, dropped my things, and looked out the window. There was my friend, all black except for his or her chest and little paws. He or she was waiting by the door to the next office over, whose workers often leave a bowl of kibble out.

Apparently, he or she couldn’t wait for the bowl today, though. Because the next time I looked out, the cat is in a primal crouch, stalking something. When I look, I see it is a small bird, perhaps a teenager robin, sitting in the tall grass.

Now, I’ve seen this exchange dozens of times with my own dog and the rabbits in my backyard. My dog crouches down, pursues them, and wags her tail when they outrun her in about 10 seconds. She’s never caught them, not one.

Except, the bird wasn’t flying away now, like the script in my head said it should. It hadn’t even noticed the cat. And it kept on being oblivious…until the cat pounced. The bird tried to fly away, but it couldn’t get high enough. The cat batted it down like a shuttlecock, despite its attempts to escape. I thought, well, this is a no-brainer. This bird will just fly away and everything will be cool. 

But it didn’t. The cat seemed to have injured it because when I had the courage to look out again, it was fluttering its wing helplessly, and the cat was simply sitting a few feet away, close enough to grab it if it tried anything stupid. The cat and I watched the bird die in the grass, suddenly going still. I turned away from the grisly scene. When I looked again, both cat and bird were gone.

Now, if you are familiar with my blog posts, this is the part where I introduce the lesson. What I learned from the bird murder I witnessed today is…

Well, I tried, anyway. I was all well, the circle of life… and then I was like, sometimes you’re the bird, and sometimes you’re the cat…and then maybe, cats are evil. That’s the lesson…or even, a bird in the hand…no, that’s not right at all…and so on.

And after trying to retrofit some kind of inspirational message, I realized that there wasn’t one. This was what cats and birds do; this is the part they play. This is the real life Sylvester and Tweety moment. But instead of dreaming up a clever hi jinx to escape, this bird died. And that’s really important to acknowledge.

Because sometimes life is ugly. It’s gruesome, bloody, and nauseating, and maybe it is time that we recognized that for what it is. I mean, I’m not saying you should try to expose yourself to the most terrible thing every day to feel as if you’ve understood life. But I think that maybe, in small doses, we’ll come to terms with our humanity, which inevitably includes our mortality, if we start to actually face it. And then, maybe we’ll stop sugarcoating animal instinct with Sylvester and Tweety. And then, maybe we’ll embrace the fact that there are going to be times where the bird doesn’t get away (no matter how much the Discovery channel wants us to think the opposite.) And maybe, we’ll start to glean some truth and meaning out of life.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t root that little bird on, just on the outside chance it gets away. Because without that hope, we have nothing.

Rest in peace, little bird. You died fighting an old fight, but a good one.

(If you are totally bummed after reading this, go to the top of the page and watch the penguins. I swear it’ll make you feel better. You’re welcome.)

What if I Never Eat Cheese Again!?

Okay. If you haven’t read The Opposite of Loneliness yet, I suggest that you leave your computer and go do that. (Or just read this post to catch up really quickly.) Seriously, guys. This isn’t the first time that I’ve mentioned this book, so you should probably just go read it now…

But if you truly have not gotten around to reading it, The Opposite of Loneliness is essentially a collection of stories, poems, and nonfiction essays by an incredibly talented young lady named Marina Keegan. Sadly, Keegan died in a car crash only a few days after her college graduation, making her words all that more poignant, if they weren’t already. The young lady had a worldliness about her that is hard to pinpoint but that is so evident in her words.

Keegan was an absolute shooting star of a writer: far, far too talented, she burned brightly and quickly. I would love to say that we have that in common, but I could never live up to the accolades that she had achieved in her short time here on Earth.

But there is one thing that I do share with her: we both have a food allergy. (Catch up on that discovery by clicking here.) She had Celiac’s disease, which meant that she couldn’t digest gluten. I have lactose intolerance plus a soy allergy, which basically means I can’t eat anything at all.

I was actually in the midst of diagnosing myself with the latter allergy when I was reading Keegan’s book. In her one essay, she talks about being unable to eat gluten, and explains that she already has a plan for her final meal. On her death bed, she will eat bread, and pasta, and pizza to her heart’s delight after being denied them for so long. She will gorge herself and then hopefully fall back onto the pillow at a ripe age and die peacefully.

In a very stark moment of realization, we all know that this event will never come to pass.

But I have to wonder: Is anyone really so lucky that they can set themselves up to go with all of the ceremony and dessert platters they want? In fact, I think death row inmates are quite blessed in that sense, in that they are given a proper, final meal, when most of us don’t know when ours will be. We’ll never know if the breakfast, lunch, or dinner we just ate will be our last.

So, what should we do? Especially those of us with food allergies. What if I never eat salty, melty, yummy cheese again?

Well, I can’t lie to you. Eating food that irritates my allergy hurts. It is absolutely unpleasant, and it affects my quality of life. I would obviously not choose to eat cheese or soy everyday, due to the repercussions.

But then again, Marina Keegan has shed some light on the matter: everything in moderation and probably not all at once. I think as long as your throat doesn’t swell up and you don’t need to be impaled with an epi pen, you should partake in the foods that make you happy once in awhile. Occasionally, your own happiness does trump your unruly stomach.

I mean, if I had to plan a grand feast for the end of my life, I would certainly invite macaroni and cheese, pesto, cheesesteaks, and bagels and cream cheese to the table. But I also need to remember to plan a little feast for now, just in case I don’t get the opportunity in the future.

The point is, if there is anything that Marina Keegan can teach us, it’s that it is absolutely useless to wait for what you really want out of life. Basically, eat the pizza while there is still time. (And if someone is able to make that into a bumper sticker, I will absolutely buy 10 of them on the spot.)

You Probably Already Know How You’ll Die

One of my favorite movies is Big Fish. It tells the story of a man whose tall tales and colorful lies create a beautiful life in retrospect but a difficult reality to accept for his son. It is a gorgeous film about what happens when cliche and skepticism meet with a truly masterful lesson at the end.

It opens with a few boys sneaking onto the property of a “swamp witch” that lives in their neighborhood. The story goes that if the witch lifts her eyepatch and peers at you with her milky eyeball, you will see how you die.

She inevitably comes out to scare away the rabblerousers. And as you probably guessed, the main character’s friends, one by one, look into her eye to see their fates. When it is the main character’s turn, he dutifully looks and watches himself die. (The audience doesn’t get to see it.) Interestingly, however, the knowledge doesn’t haunt him throughout the movie. Instead, it informs him. Much later in the film, when he gets into some trouble, he rationalizes that this isn’t how he saw himself die in the witch’s eye. Therefore, he tells himself, he’ll probably get out of this pickle unscathed.

I don’t think this thinking has to be exclusively relegated to movies. If we’re completely honest with ourselves, we already know what will probably kill us in the end, too. Or at least, we can make an educated guess.

For example, you may know that you have a lot of cancer in your family. You may live in a dangerous part of the world. You may smoke. (Enough said.) Heck, Elvis died on the toilet, for heaven’s sake. So, maybe he didn’t know, but he couldn’t do anything about it, either.

Me? I know I’ll die of something heart related. First of all, I have too many feelings, so I will probably die of a broken heart when my favorite television show is cancelled. Or I’ll simply give up and eat everything that my food allergies say that I can’t have until I clog my arteries in one fell swoop. (Talk about dying happy…)

Now, I’m not trying to be morbid. I’m simply saying that this is one less thing that you need to worry about. If you’re wondering how you’ll die (and you shouldn’t because it is a waste of time), you have to rationalize that you have probably already encountered how it will happen. In fact, you may have been the one to initiate the behavior in the first place, by crossing the street or lighting up a cigarette. And, in actuality, that is a freeing thought, to be lifted from the accusations of time and the punishment of “what if…”

Oh, I’m sure it’ll still be a surprise when it happens, which is good, to keep the suspense up and to keep you on your toes. But you can’t be afraid of how it will happen. You can only hope that your death will be fitting of the person you were in life.

But in the end, we’re all staring into the witch’s eye. It’s how we react to the information we see that shapes us.

My Theory about Time

Do you ever feel that time could race a snail to the finish line and lose? Do you ever feel like if there were 25 hours in a day you would be able to get everything done? And when Friday rolls around, do you stare at the clock, willing it to go faster? And what about Sunday night, do you ask time to take it easy?

I don’t think anyone at any given moment is really pleased with how time is going. We want it to stop and slow down and speed up, sometimes all at once. And we wonder why it doesn’t, why it disobeys.

My theory is that it does listen to us. That we absolutely have power over the time we have. We can make the second hand tick faster with our desires alone. And we can pause the timer in order to appreciate what we have.

But whatever you want the clock to do, there is someone, actually lots of someones, who want it do the opposite. If you are waiting for the weekend, there is someone out there who is praying the week lasts a little longer. When you are looking for the morning so that you can see the sunrise, someone is praying for the night when they can lay with their lover. When you are counting down the moments until a certain event, there is someone who is counting the last minutes of his or her life, wishing that they had more.

So, my idea is that we are able to control the clock. But since there are so many people pushing back against what we may want, time stays confined to 60 seconds to a minute and 60 minutes to an hour, and so on. And when it flies? And when it is slower than molasses? That’s when we’re not actually thinking about time. We’re thinking about what we’re doing or what we could be doing. We’ve stopped fighting so hard against time.

The point is that even though we may be able to control time (maybe), we need to be able to live in the moment too. If my theory is correct, we need to all stop wasting so much energy trying to push the clock forward or backward. We can only do what we will with the time we’re given, no matter how fast or slow it goes.

You Need to Get Good at Dying

Okay, let’s all practice now. Hold your breath until you turn blue in the face. Do this until you feel like you can do it on command. Congratulations! Keep doing it, and you’ll be good at dying in no time!

(Please, tell me that you know I’m kidding. I don’t need any of my readers dropping dead on me. What if you die before hitting the “like” button?)

But still, you should get better at dying in a metaphorical sense. And what could I possibly mean by that? I simply mean that you need to get good at saying goodbye, at leaving it all behind, and starting over. Because you are going to be doing that a lot in life, not only with other people, but more often, with yourself.

Let’s see if this scenario is familiar: a person from your past or slightly distant present has a beef with you over something. Whether you forgot to text him/her last night or you weren’t keen to listen to their latest drama-filled story, you brushed them off, accidentally. What is the first stone thrown in the argument that ensues? You’ve changed. The old (insert your name here) wouldn’t act this way. The old (insert your name here) was my friend. 

Except, what that other person is really saying is that you are not acting in accordance with how he or she thought you should act. How dare you not stick to the script of your own life!

Which is just about as ludicrous as it sounds. You, believe it or not, are going to die a few “deaths” in your lifetime. You, though your friend may not believe it, are going to change, radically. You may have already “died” a few times already, as you had to reinvent yourself to survive. When you first experienced heartbreak, when you moved out of your parents’ house, when you lost someone who was close to you, etc.

Now, anyone who has lost someone dear to them can tell you that they are never really gone. We carry them with us because they’re bodies were too tired to carry the weight of their full soul. And that is what will happen to you. You will die, in a sense, but continue to live. You will say goodbye to the person that you once were, but you will never lose them. You will simply tuck that part of you away, for safekeeping.

And you should. Humans, by nature, have to adapt. We need to be able to keep changing and growing with our environment. It would be a real, true sort of death if we weren’t able to do that. If we weren’t able to keep going after we thought life had ended for us.

Of course, I’m sure you’re worried about losing yourself in this dying in life process. What if I shed a layer of myself that I wanted to keep? Well, put simply, everyone has a lighthouse inside them. The seas of our souls can get stormy, and they can obscure the lighthouse, sometimes the ocean spray can put the light out altogether. But you can and will relight them.

You see, people fall in love with each other’s lighthouses. That is to say, people fall in love with the core of who they are, not who you are or who you were or who you will be. They fall in love with something far less tangible and far more constant.

In the end, you need to get good at dying. You need to recognize that you will never live forever as the person that you are, but that you will build and create yourself, the person you were always meant to be. The sooner you say goodbye, the easier it will be to begin anew. Like the tides that meet the shore, you will fade and ebb and then surge and surge again. You can rely on this cycle, as so many boats out to sea rely on you.

To Kill a Robin

I don’t exactly live in the wilderness, but I certainly don’t live in a concrete jungle. The most common creatures I see on a walk through my neighborhood are deer, songbirds, and the occasional Scottish terrier followed by the traditional senior, suburban citizen.

So, I wasn’t really surprised when walking with my mother recently to find a robin. What was rather intriguing was the fact that it was in the middle of a quiet road and that it let us get ridiculously close to it. Being the adventurers we are, we were thoroughly curious, but we knew that our proximity probably wasn’t a good sign. We knew something had to be wrong with it. Trying to inspect it, we didn’t see anything at first, but we weren’t convinced that it was a healthy omen of spring.

I should also mention at this point that in addition to being adventurers, we are also do-gooders. And we couldn’t let this poor robin sit in the middle of the road. Sure, it was a quiet street, but it was a street nonetheless. We had to figure out how to move the robin out of more danger’s way. It certainly wasn’t afraid of us, but it didn’t react to our incredibly convincing “shooing” gestures either. What could we do?

I finally decided that I would have to pick it up. But just shy of cupping him or her in my bare hands, I took off my shirt. (I had a shirt underneath, you dirty birds). I tried to swaddle him when he started to hop forward. When I went to attempt it again, he moved a couple more inches. By the time that I corralled him to the curb, without having to touch him, a car was patiently waiting for me to finish my half-hearted rescue mission. Time had run out, and this was all that we could do for the creature.

As we started to walk away, I heard my mother conclude that here was something wrong with its wing, so for better or worse, we had to leave it at the side of the road. Like a helicopter parent on the first day of kindergarten, we kept looking over our shoulder as we walked on. It didn’t comfort my nerves or my stomach that I saw plenty of hawks flying over my head as we trudged home, minds turned to the inevitable circle of life.

In addition to being  an adventurer and a do-gooder, I am apparently also a masochist. I returned the next day to the spot, with one eye squinting as if I had eaten something sour, not wanting to see what I thought I would see. No small robin carcass rotting in the sun, though. Once again, I was thoroughly surprised. But this time, I was also overjoyed. I started walking again, a spring in my step.

Until I realized that it could have been scooped up by a hungry, flying predator, with no evidence of a struggle to leave behind. (The reason for my masochism, of course). The thought made me cringe and lose any happiness I felt when I saw the absence of a small corpse.

But then, I slowly realized, as I kept walking, that my happiness was never hinged on whether the robin would survive. It was only about doing what I could to help it, however insignificant to the grand scheme of it all. And I knew that even though my second thought had been rather morbid, it was only my first expression of hope that truly mattered. It was only the fact that I had tried, even though it had been possibly in vain and what I hoped to be true.

Belief is all about what we can’t see. What you choose to believe is completely up to you, especially when there is very little evidence of a foregone conclusion. And so, you define your own happiness or your own sorrow in the very idea of what you believe in.

I didn’t want that robin to die, and I choose to believe that he or she didn’t. I could be wrong, and I could be right. But I can’t prove either. And isn’t that wonderful that it doesn’t matter at all?