We are all going to die. So what does it look like?This article won the 2011 National Magazine Award for feature writing.
Details from a Lord of the Rings fantasy game interrupt details of a tragic, complicated personal life.
"Right about now, I assume you’ve gotten a bit bored. Dead babies! Let me tell you, dying babies bore the shit out of pretty much everyone, I’ve learned. So, let me take a moment to tell you a humorous LOTRO anecdote (that is, Lord of the Rings Online) about my level 25 minstrel character, Sinuviel. You see, LOTRO is free up to a point, and great fun if you have access to a computer that is badass enough to run it. Just before my fiancé, James, died, I bought a refurbished ASUS laptop for dirt cheap, and it was the best thing in the world for distracting me from how boring my dying child was to everyone I’d ever known."
The death of a pet leads to unique, unsettling mental strains.
"She needed to take a seat. Altogether too much for a morning already, and it was only seven. She collapsed backwards onto the couch and the thing jumped into the lap of her nightgown, settling into the space there, the way Caleb had done as a puppy. She touched it tentatively, and the thing seemed to shiver pleasantly under her hand."
As a mother and son share cocktails on the porch, past problems are discussed and imagined.
"She was aware of the resonance of her son's voice. She guessed the neighbors were used to it by now, and would assume Bradley was having another mental fit. They didn't know how hard these family deaths had hit her son, and how tough it was to keep him from getting aroused, or agitated, a word his therapist used a lot. She knew too, that her son, like his father, was persistent and could fixate on things."
“For much of my life, there was something about my mother I felt almost allergic to. As she approached death, for the first time I found I didn’t merely love her, I actually liked her.”
Excerpted from The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion.
A woman bonds with her terminally ill sister over food, memories, and shaky lives.
"When Ava won the middle school election, there was peach cobbler with a filling so warm it burnt my tongue. When I failed chemistry, she silently let me lock myself in my room, but I came down for dinner to lasagna with short ribs that fell apart at the slightest nudge. Mom would only speak to us seriously once our mouths were full; with blueberry-banana pancakes the morning of the SATs, chicken-stuffed bell peppers after soccer games, and over spaghetti carbonara for high school heartaches. We came to interpret her innermost thoughts in meticulous meals culled from Julia Child and the Rombauers. It was like she needed something to distract us when she was fully there."
An interactive fiction: a son and the illusion of his dead father; the intersection of technology and real life.
"Once I created his page I tried to return to my life. I was twenty-six years old, a man of inconsistent employment. During the winter I shoveled snow for the elderly. They paid me in germs and butterscotch candy. My landlord, an independently wealthy sexagenarian, accepted the candy as payment. She also insisted I tidy the complex. I changed light bulbs. I dusted the parking lot. I swept cigarette butts into the street. I clubbed the occasional beehive. My life was guarded and lonely, and susceptible, I soon discovered, to the distraction my father provided."
A widower takes his children to visit relatives under vague, suspicious circumstances.
"One day he said he was taking us on a trip to meet his people in Missouri, relatives we hadn’t known existed. They were farmers of German descent, with exotic-sounding names like Fritzi and Helga and Smit. We loaded up the car and just drove, right out into the country. If our mother had been alive, she’d pack a cooler full of bologna sandwiches and Mars bars, but there was none of that. The windows were down and hot bursts of wind boxed our cheeks and made the Cubs cap on our father’s head twitch."
On what you do and don’t learn in medical school.
Excerpted from Being Mortal.
Cemetery field recordings reveal terrifying audio messages.
"One night, listening back, she heard the crunch of shovelling. Nothing to worry about, the priest said. Simply gravediggers. She had not realised the cemetery still bore room for fresh dead; she imagined dough cut to the shape of the cemetery and a coffin-shaped cookie cutter pressed into it to calibrate the number of remaining graves."