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December 10, 2004

Blogs you should be reading. Mi—I mean, The Corpuscle on How to Live with Dead People.
Step #1: Unexpecting your new friend.

This is often the most difficult step to master because unexpected deaths are unexpected and most people aren’t very good with surprises. Generally, an unexpected death will be just about the last thing you would ever have been expecting just before the email or phone call arrives telling you that the dead person has unexpectedly died. Most people just aren’t very flexible about this sort of thing.

For example, an email might arrive in your Inbox with nothing more than a friend’s name in the subject line. You might find yourself staring at the Inbox, hoping to christ almighty on a god damned crutch that this email is going to be about a surprise birthday party for your friend. Don’t be alarmed if a few seconds have to pass before you can actually bring yourself to open the email. After all, you know it isn’t anywhere near his birthday, and though there is still a chance that the email might concern some delightful and harmless bit of gossip about your friend, you have a pain in your tummy telling you, no, things aren’t going to be that easy.

Here, we shall pass over the moment when you allow yourself to actually see the words that carry the news. Here, most guides like this one will simply insert the words “something ghastly happens” and then move on, and so we will adopt that convention as well. There are, after all, no reliable reports of what this moment is really like.

Now you’ll find yourself in a twilight place. You’ve become a sudden and involuntary convert to a religion that can only exist in Bizarro World. You know the thing is true, but you don’t believe it. This is unfaith. Don’t be alarmed. This moment will not last.

[11:59 PM]
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Comments on Blogs you should be reading.:

Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2004, 03:24 AM:

I just added the subscription to my RSS feed. Excellent blog! Thanks, Patrick.

I notice that The Corpuscle, like me, stole your basic blog style, but he did a much nicer job stealing it, so I will be stealing his style pretty soon.

Guy Matthews ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2004, 01:27 PM:

O_o A bit.... Morbid that... *shiver*

bad Jim ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 02:23 AM:

That's exactly right. Two years ago I was the one tasked to send the general message, and in what I sent my late friend's name was indeed the sole and entire subject line.

I'd gotten the sobbing phone call, and had no reason to doubt it, but I delayed putting out the word just in case it was a mistake. I didn't want to look bad. Eventually I found something about the accident online, personally notified a close friend with a dying husband, made some calls, sent the funereal notification.

At the time, my hesitance felt more like caution than denial. Perhaps it's not the worst way to fool one's self.

bad Jim ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 02:52 AM:

What else could one put in the subject line, though? "Guess who just died?"

I believe I toyed with the idea of using something like "Bad news", but gave in to the idea that using just the name would let people brace themselves, give them a chance to shift gears.

David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 03:49 AM:

You could put the person's name along with their dates. (E.g., "David Goldfarb 1968-2052".)

There's been a fair amount of discussion of this on rec.arts.sf.fandom over the years. I remember one time. For many years people I respected had adored Mike Ford's writing, but it had never clicked with me; then I read The Dragon Waiting and it did. And it was late at night and I was still a bit loopy, so I when I posted about it to rassff I titled the post "John M. Ford". The next day it took two posts saying "Don't DO that!" before I stopped saying "What are they on about?" and started saying, "Oh, shit...."

Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 08:48 PM:

We have a phone tree system here in the SF club in Kansas City partly because we always feel email should be just about the last way to hear about a death. And we still have some club members without email.

This is a sensitive topic right now, we had one of our local club members pass away last Saturday/Sunday overnight, he went to bed and did not wake up. So the week was sad and strange, especially because our club Christmas party was last night (Saturday).


mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2004, 10:17 AM:

That gave me an idea. Maybe I should make set of "thanks for being part of my life" cards, pre-addressed, to be mailed in the event of my death. Nice personal touch, plus it wouldn't be a long list.
No, I won't do it, but I need to put that in my scrap book for future story/character ideas.

Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2004, 07:26 PM:

Mayakda, I recently hired the just-out-of-college-but-no-job-yet son of friends to help me clean out my storeroom. I was surprised about some of the things I've saved in there -- doll quilts my grandmother made me, some of my father's baby clothes, etc. -- but I've realized that I have no idea what to do with them. My brother refuses to keep things that deal with the past and he's teaching that to his kids. I don't have kids. I still have room to store those items, but is it worth storing them just to be discarded when I die?

Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2004, 09:26 PM:

Marilee - I'd suggest being ruthless about triaging what you keep, but do keep enough old family things so that they're there for your relations in the (hopefully) distant future when they (and not you) will have to worry about such things.

Just because a parent teaches a child to discard the past doesn't mean that the child will internalize the lesson as an adult - they may genuinely want some of that stuff.

mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2004, 01:52 PM:

I'm a hopeless squirrel, so I'm a bad person to ask. My neighbor did tell me that it was really hard, emotionally, for her to go through her mother's stuff after her mom died.
Logically the best thing to do is dispose of them (sell or give them away) yourself.
If you really like the idea of passing them on to your nieces/nephews, maybe box them up now and put the kid's name on it, and promise yourself you'll give it to them on their xth birthday (when they'll be old enough to appreciate the family history aspect of it).

My brother refuses to keep things that deal with the past and he's teaching that to his kids.
That's a bit sad ...

Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2004, 04:18 PM:

When my grandmother had a stroke, my aunt sent me an email with the subject line "Family news." It proved fatal, and I notified some friends with "Some sad news," and one friend who mostly ignores her email with "Death in my family" (because I wanted it to get noticed.)

Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2004, 11:35 AM:

Is this as good a place as any to say that I've just been rather shocked by seeing an unexpected obituary? OTOH, for those who were following the lady's life more, and knew of her illness, perhaps the news isn't so surprising.

This is from the New York Times, but there will be many around for such a figure as Susan Sontag, I expect.

Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2004, 05:35 PM:

Susan Sontag's death didn't shock me, but Jerry Orbach's did. He was a great actor.

Mary Aileen sees comment spam on Blogs you should be reading ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2005, 12:11 PM:

Spam, spam, spam

The comment spam is still there ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2005, 02:14 PM:

Gambling spam.