Archives for Lynn Margulis

Do You Want To Be Buried or Cremated?

If you’re my age or younger, you probably haven’t thought about whether you want to be buried or cremated.

If you’re my 74-year-old-beloved-relative-who-will-not-be-named-here-for-fear-of-offending-him, you shrug and say you don’t know, you’ll let your wife decide.

But there’s so many things to take care of when somebody dies.

There’s so much grief.

There’s so much longing.

There’s so much you wish you had said to your loved one.

There are so many nights when you lie awake for hours wishing you had a second chance … and knowing that you never will.

The loved one is in a quieter, gentler place. But you, the bereaved, are stuck in a hurricane of sadness and self-doubt and regret and longing that goes on for months or years or maybe even decades.

So if you, while you are alive and healthy and strong, make some simple preparations, those preparations will help the people you leave behind, who hate you for being gone, who love you fiercely and maybe feel they didn’t tell you so often enough, who let life’s petty anxieties get in the way of listening when you called them on the phone.

My mom wanted to be cremated. Cremation is easier and cheaper than being buried. She didn’t want hoop-la. The no nonsense of cremation appealed to her, I think.

We chose an urn made out of pink Himalayan rock salt to put my mother’s ashes in. My brothers and I agreed on it right away. Every rock salt urn is unique. It was natural but it had pizzazz, just like my mom. We know she would’ve liked it.

Related Posts:
Be extra kind to your mom, because you only get one, warts and all
On having a hard time getting back to work

My mom (right) and her mom with Carl Sagan at their wedding. She was 19 years old.

A recent picture of my mother, Lynn Margulis, who died very suddenly and unexpectedly of a brain hemorrhage on November 22, 2011.

On Having a Hard Time Getting Back to Work

I can’t stop thinking about the photo in the New York Times of a beautiful Norwegian woman, with red hair, crying out in agony because one of her loved ones was killed in the deadly attack on government buildings last July.

My friend Harald Birkevold, an award-winning investigative journalist based in Stavanger, told me that Norway is such a small country that virtually everyone knew someone who died in the bomb explosion or the shootings afterwards.

When something catastrophic happens to you, your regular life stops. Time gets suspended. You feel like you’re living underwater. Your vision gets blurred, as if the tears are permanently affecting your ability to see.

If yours is a public tragedy–like the Norwegian attack or, to a much lesser extent, my mom’s death–the newspapers take notice. For a day. For a week. For a month.

But then everyone goes back to life as usual. The world doesn’t stop for you. Your deadlines don’t disappear. Checks still need to be deposited. Colleagues still expect return phone calls. Bills still need to be paid. The grocery store still needs to be frequently. And your children still need to be fed and bathed and listened to and cared for.

I used to fancy myself swift, decisive, and efficient. Now, grieving the unexpected death of my mom, I walk into the bank and feel overwhelmed by the choice of which open teller to approach. I can barely make it to the grocery store. I drag myself to work but have a hard time getting anything done. I’ve totally neglected this blog.

Last night when I was brushing my teeth I came out of the bathroom to talk to my oldest daughter and accidently dripped toothpaste on the couch.

“That’s disgusting Mom,” my daughter said.

She was right. It was gross. I went to get a washcloth to clean it up and felt so ashamed I started sobbing. I came back with the washcloth, tears streaming down my face.

“It’s okay, Mom, it’s just toothpaste,” my daughter said gently. “Look, it’s already gone.”

“I miss my mom,” I tried to explain as both my older girls put their arms around me. “I wish she hadn’t died.”

We stood like that for a long time, my girls patiently hugging me while I cried and cried.

New York Times photographers are no longer snapping shots of the Norwegian families who are grieving. It’s old news to them. But not to that woman in the photograph. Her grief will last a lifetime.

Be Extra Kind to Your Mom, Because You Only Get One, Warts and All

My mother, Lynn Margulis, and me. She died very unexpectedly of a brain hemorrhage on November 22, 2011

I’m not sure but I think I was sitting at the kitchen table with my 12-year-old daughter, who was getting ready for her 7th grade play, when the call came.

Urgent. Hospital. Brain actively bleeding. Trying to stabilize her. Intensive care.

My mother had collapsed while working at the computer in her home office. She was taken to the emergency room but the local hospital was not equipped to handle what happened to her. By the time I talked to a doctor, they were doing the paperwork to transfer her to a hospital with a neurological ICU.

I woke my 2-year-old at 4 a.m. the next morning so we could catch a 5:30 flight. I was by my mom’s side by 7 p.m., her important documents — the health proxy, power-of-attorney, and living will — in hand.

“I looked at the scans, Jenny,” her doctor of twenty years–more a friend than a physician–told me on the phone that day. “‘Massive’ would not be too big a word for the bleed.”

Five days after the stroke my mother died. At her home. My 12-year-old held her right hand, my 10-year-old held her left. Those were the worst five days of my life but at least I know she died surrounded by more love than the room could contain.

Ever since that phone call I’ve been living underwater.

It wasn’t until yesterday that I was able to start up the computer. There’s a package my mother sent me that I cannot open. The day she collapsed she bought tickets to come visit us.

It feels like someone has stabbed me with 100 daggers, in my stomach, in my back, in my neck, but most of all in my heart.

Mom, I wish I could have gotten there sooner. I miss you so much. I’m not ready for you to be gone.

This holiday season be extra kind to your mom, tell her you love her, do something special for her.

You only get one, no matter how imperfect she is.

And when she dies, you can’t ever get her back.

Lynn Margulis, evolutionary theorist, dies at 73, Obituary of my mother in the New York Times

Lynn Margulis, 73, transformed view of evolution, Obituary of my mother in the Boston Globe

An exhaustive compilation with links to all the obituaries in English, Spanish, Catalan, and other languages about my mom by her friend and colleague Mercè Piqueras

More on Dickens

The volumes at the Eastman House are green but this image gives you the right idea

The volumes at the Eastman House are green but this image gives you the right idea

Awhile back I made a resolution to read everything Charles Dickens ever wrote. Recently a literary agent said to me, “The Sopranos is the new Dickens.” Since Dickens used to write for magazines in installments, he had a loyal following who would wait for the next chapter in the next magazine, like many people today wait for the next episode of a beloved television show.

When I was a graduate student in American literature I spent a lot of time reading old newspapers on microfilm in the basement of the library. In 19th century papers in America I came across small ads or whole articles about when the next installment of “Little Dorrit” would be arriving by ship from England. Readers were so keen on the story that when the next chapter finally came they would swarm the shipyard docks to get their copies.

Front of Balliol College

Front of Balliol College

My mother, Lynn Margulis, is teaching at Balliol College at Oxford University and living in the Eastman House, right near the center of town. There are many lovely things about her set-up this year but the best–to me–was that the house has the complete works of Charles Dickens in these gorgeous 19th century volumes. I started reading “A Christmas Carol” to the kids and we actually had to cut some of the pages as the book was uncut. We didn’t finish it but they are hooked and I just checked out a much less romantic copy from the library.

I finished “Great Expectations” (which we’re reading for my book club) and started “Bleak House.” But I left the gorgeous 19th century edition behind in the Eastman House and am waiting for the local library to get a copy in. In the meantime I keep thinking about “Great Expectations.” I’m haunted by Pip’s early experiences helping a rogue convict and being abused by his sister. That book, like so much of Dickens, is so filled with heart and suffering and kindness and wisdom. He is such a master at his craft. He weaves his stories together so seamlessly that it’s hard to believe so many of them were written in installments.

The nice thing about reading Dickens is, unlike Raymond Chandler who only wrote a handful of novels in his lifetime, there is still so much to look forward to.