The Deathbed Project

Too much recent conversation about death has me planning an activity for my last weeks on earth.

Everyone who comes to visit me (at 95, handling my impending death gracefully, looking elegantly frail and ethereally beautiful, glass of wine in one hand and grandbaby in the other) will be asked to pick an index card and read it to me. On it will be handwritten a memory from my life.

Sounds pretty good, no? Especially if I can be graceful, beautiful and still enjoying a glass of wine (err, I mean, grandchild).

Jan Steen,

I write the first card. It's sentimental and personal. I start making a list of things I want to write down while I still remember them.

  1. Watching the full moon rise at an outdoor performance in Montana by my jazz singer cousin, thinking about that passage in The Sheltering Sky *
  2. Napping on the same bed with another cousin and her little girl, next to my grandmother, who was in a hospital bed, nearing her last day
  3. The moment I found out my first child would be a boy, standing in the door frame of Le Pain Quotidian on Great Marlborough Street
  4. The Addison Lee car ride from our flat in Wapping as my husband, son and I began our move to Toronto
  5. The night my husband and I decided to buy our house (and stay in Toronto)

But how many moments have I already forgotten, moments that weren't marked by big events, when stillness and happiness descended on my life and for that moment, everything was just right? Those are the memories I want to write down and remember. Like the one that started this idea: Laying down with my three-year-old son and my mother at her house, while he went to sleep, after putting his little hand in mine.

When I was younger and had time on my hands (and the luxury of exploring the bittersweet angst of youth in my heart), I wrote in a journal. Now I don't have time for that nonsense; the journal or the angst. I think this is perfect. I can certainly find one minute to log a moment, and it's easy enough to keep index cards close at hand. I just have to remember.

Www PaulBowles Org

“Because we don't know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, an afternoon that is so deeply a part of your being that you can't even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four, five times more, perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps 20. And yet it all seems limitless.”

Paul Bowles, The Sheltering Sky