The Philadelphia Experience: On life and death

What’s news for horror writer Paul D. Dail?

Well, if you haven’t already heard, my son was born last Saturday morning.  The actual birthing experience was much different than two and a half years ago with my daughter, but both shared a good case of jaundice, and as I write this, we are still waiting for the opportunity to take him off the blue lights.  It’s a tough time, but I think back on my daughter and know that everything will be okay soon.

Considering this experience of becoming a parent from a writing perspective, if you haven’t already, you can check out this post on my daughter’s birth:

Slowing Down: On the birth of my daughter… or… A Softer Side of the Horror Writer.

What does the future hold?

Today, this question that I use in every post seems like a very good one.

You’ll have to check back next week, and we’ll see.

But without further ado…

When it comes to visiting close friends and family in other locales, you rarely get enough time.  I struggle to think of many times when I’ve been on vacation and thought, “Okay, I’ve seen enough of this person.”  So I’ve learned that while we don’t get as much time as we’d like, we have to enjoy every moment that we get.

I think this goes for life in general.

And this idea really ties well into this excerpt from an East Coast trip I took with my wife a few years back.  One part of our trip took us to Philadelphia to see a good friend of mine, Clark.  While much more complex than the generalizations I’m about to give you, the main thing you need to know about Clark in order to get this piece started is that he is a California boy.  And liberal.

Philadelphia was not the right place for Clark.

The rest of the piece will unfold as it goes.  However, I will say that before going to Philadelphia, Jennifer and I had gone to the Body Worlds exhibit. As a once Biology major, this was fascinating.  As a horror writer, it touched a dark nerve.  But as it related to our trip, the contemplation of life and death already hung heavy in the air by the time we made it to Philadelphia.

So NOW without further ado…

“With the good ones in this life, you count yourself lucky for the minutes you get, the moments you get, moments like a clean wash cloth, ice cold wet on a hot summer day.  You know it won’t last forever, so you squeeze every drop, drink it all in, and when you can’t twist anything else out of it, you put the cool, damp rag on your face until it dries away.”

– bh duk

Clark and I talk that night about the ocean.   Water in general.  How we’re connected to it.  How the earth is just us on a larger scale or vice-versa.  And the water is the lifeblood of the planet, the body.

Clark has been disconnected from the ocean, and I don’t think it’s treating him too well.  Tradeoffs.  We talk about tradeoffs considerably.  Whether it’s where you live or how you choose to live or who you choose to live for.

We talk about “what if’s” and it makes me a little sad that while I’m just curious about my own “what if’s,” Clark seems to have a few moments where he would’ve done something different than he did.

We talk about the golden mean, and if there is an order to the universe.  Call it math, science, or God, it seems undeniable.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  None of this conversation might’ve come about had it not been for the fact that on our second night, Jennifer and I are faced with death.  I tell Jennifer that I’ve never been any good with death.  Never know what to say to people experiencing that loss.  Never know when the right time to call is.  I just don’t like it.  I know that seems obvious and that probably very few people do like death, but honestly, I know there are some people out there who feed off of tragedy.  Maybe not to that extent, but you know the type.  People who wouldn’t be happy if they weren’t miserable.

Jennifer’s Uncle Calvin has passed.  And it’s a tragedy.  But as with my Aunt Peggy, I feel like the greatest tragedy is just for those who are left behind.  I’ve never felt really sure about anything when it comes to religion, the pre-life or the post-party, but when Peggy died, and again with Cal, I was struck with a certainty that they are in a good place.  Not necessarily a better place, but a good place.

I can see how my mind might’ve wanted to seek out this reassurance with Peggy, because I was a little closer to her, but when I got the feeling with Cal, it didn’t feel like a defense mechanism.  Granted, I really liked Cal.  He reminded me of an old cowboy.  Much like my father.  But I didn’t need to be comforted as much as Jennifer.

And that was another thing.  It didn’t feel like the obligatory consoling comments to my wife.  I even hesitated to say it to her because I know that she isn’t really sold on the idea of a god or afterlife or any of that (not that I’m insinuating as much as that… just something beyond, even if it’s just a great joining with the cosmos), and I knew my consolation wouldn’t give her the same comfort that it would give to Cal’s wife.

Ruth was gone when he died.  Apparently he had been having some health problems, but nothing that would’ve led doctors to believe he was close to death.  But on that day, Cal had practically forced Ruth out of the house to go with her sister to a wedding.  And again, I wonder if somewhere deep inside, maybe not even in his conscious awareness, he knew that the time was coming.  Or someone knew that his time was coming.  And like an old cowboy would, he pushed his wife out the door, told her to go have fun.

Because we all die alone.

That’s right from “Donnie Darko,” (among other things) I recognize, but it’s true.  We all die alone.  The important thing is the people who are left behind.  Maybe nothing could’ve been done for Cal, and if that was the case, it seems like it would be better if his wife wasn’t there when it happened.  I know that we want to be there for the final moments of a loved one’s life, and maybe Ruth felt like she would’ve liked to have told him one more time that she loved him.  Maybe they even had a spat, but I feel confident of one thing.  He knew that he was loved when he left this world.

And for the rest of us, we didn’t have to see him pass slowly and painfully in a hospital somewhere.  We’re left with our memories, left with moments that are sweet, like cold drops of water on your face on a hot summer day.  In my opinion, we can only hope that we go that way.  Like an old cowboy.

– end of excerpt –

What do I want from you?


As always links to your blogs are welcome.

Don’t forget to check back next Friday.  It’s not going to be another travelogue piece, and I won’t have gone very far from my home, but I’m very curious to see where I’ll be.

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23 thoughts on “The Philadelphia Experience: On life and death

  1. Congrats on the birth of your son, my good man. Although the experience seems to have inspired heavy thoughts of life and death. You’ll have plenty of time for that when you’re up at three in the morning!

    1. Thanks, Mac. I realized that it was a pretty heavy post considering the birth of my son (and would appear to be linked to that event), but I’ve actually had this one planned for this week for a few weeks now (and we weren’t expecting Jameson until August 1st).

      Hope all is going well for you. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  2. Congrats on the baby boy, Daddy!

    1. Thanks, Jaye. Hope you are doing well with all of your recent endeavors. And thanks again for your great post on formatting e-books (actually, most of your posts in general).

  3. Congrats on the newbie, Paul!

    Your post certainly is heavy this week, considering a new life, but the birth of my kids made me think beyond the everyday as well. I don’t like death, either. It’s not something we’ve been equipped to handle easily. But I take the Bible at face value. Its message ties up in a complete package that simply makes sense to me, and all my efforts to disprove it have failed. So there’s a good deal of comfort for me in times like this. However, death is just plain HARD whether you believe in the Bible or not.

    1. Thanks, Michelle. I appreciate your comments. I’m glad you have found your beliefs, comfort and confidence in the Bible. I know you are aware that you and I may differ on a few things in this arena, but I really like that we can still have these types of conversations. I’m not sure what it was that gave me the comfort at these times. It’s a faith in something, and for now, that’s good enough for me.

      Thanks again for your comments. Hope you are doing well.

      1. It’s called mutual respect. Pretty easy, really. 🙂

  4. Congrats Again on the birth of your son. I think it is very healthy to ponder on death and birth; the full cycle of life.
    I find the death of someone young disconcerting and very unsettling, when an old person especially one that has led a fantastic full life passes I can only think should we all be so lucky.
    It does help that I believe in the After-life and I also believe in re-incarnation. I read recently somewhere (facebook) that those of us who believe in re-incarnation should request tombstones that replace R.I.P. wit B.R.B.
    Also is regards to believing in after-life the Bible is not the only source or representative of the sole faith that espouses a belief in after-life.
    So I know I shall Be Right Back in perhaps an even better form; but may this life be long and fruitful.

    M.C.V. Egan
    The Bridge of Deaths

    1. Hey Catalina, thanks for your comments. I’ve actually heard that about B.R.B. That’s pretty funny.

      I agree that the Bible is not the only source. As I’ve mentioned before, I believe that almost all religions have some sense of truth about them, something that they have keyed into.

      Thanks again for stopping by. Hope you are having a good weekend.

  5. Hearty congratulations, sir!
    For my part, with both of my boys, I found myself facing the inevitable questions of human frailty. It’s a natural thing when, all of a sudden, a totally helpless life is thrust into your hands to mold and protect.
    Carry on, and keep on keepin’ on.

    1. Thanks for the congrats, Axel. Yeah, I hadn’t intended to have this post match up with the birth of my son, but as I was putting it together, it felt especially poignant as, like you said, my wife and I were faced with questions of keeping this little guy alive in the world the first few days. It’s a wild thing.

      Thanks again for your comments. Hope all is well.

  6. I’m so excited to meet your new little one. I’m glad he is back home. Give Jennifer and Aspen all my love.
    I find myself thinking of death more often than I used to. My biggest concern is making sure my daughter and grand daughter ate taken care of. The thought of dying doesn’t scare me, just makes me sad. Sad because if all the things I will miss with Kiri and Karalee.
    When my mom died, I heard all the regular condolences from everyone mad it helped. People have a hard time knowing what to say when talking to someone who is grieving. For me, even though I don’t believe in an afterlife, I didn’t really mind hearing people say I would see her again because even tho it didn’t make me feel better, it made them feel better to say it.
    Funerals also bring out the weirdos. Those who are fascinated with death in a sick way, or want to find a way to turn the attention and sympathy towards them thru the death of someone they know. Kinda like the Munchausen by proxy mental illness. These people are what fuels many a real life horror story. But I am rambling.
    We all die eventually, and some find comfort in religion. I find comfort in knowing I have raised a wonderful daughter and I have a family who loves me and will remember me when I’m gone.

    1. Sorry for the typos. Auto correct kinda sucks.

    2. Kodi, some great comments here. And I like that you are concerned enough about others that it makes you feel good that it makes them feel good to express their beliefs to you. I know you are firm in your beliefs but respectful of others.

      And yes, I’ve known people who make most things (even funerals) somehow about themselves. Too bad. Sounds like you maybe had one or two when your mom died.

      And I count myself fortunate (as should Kiri and Karalee) that we won’t have to worry about losing you anytime too soon. Of course, there’s something you could probably do to make us all a little more comfortable with that knowledge. Ahem… (just because we love you)

      Thanks as always for commenting. Hope to see you soon.

  7. of course congrat on the baby i loved the discussion so honestly about death and your experiences and the realities of those around you. Death is an awakening process and does bring awareness of our beliefs thoughts and understandings of the universe. As you have communicated well your experience.

    1. Thanks, Brendeen. Nice to see you here and get your comment. And I’m glad you have enjoyed the discussion and comments. I really appreciate the varying opinions of the circle of people I have met out in this blogging/writing world.

      Hope all is going well for you.

  8. What a beautiful baby! I hope that he has been able to come out from the blue lights. Hugs to both baby and his big sister, who just got the gift of a lifelong friend.

    Words fail me when I am faced with death. Words can only ever try to represent the reality, but many realities are so complex and emotionally charged, words just feel puny. A hug seems to be better.

    I believe in reincarnation. It helps me with grieving. What it doesn’t help is the fact that I will miss the people who have gone from this life until whenever it is we get to meet again – and that is a lonely, sad feeling.


    1. Hey Aniko, thanks for the comments and kind words. I was able to bring Jennifer and Jameson home on Friday. It’s been great having everyone home (and big sister is being pretty good all things considered… like being two and a half years old).

      I would agree. I’m a big fan of hugs anyway, so it just makes more sense. You have a great way of putting it, especially considering we are writers and words are supposed to be so powerful.

      Thanks again. Hope you had a good weekend.

  9. Hey, Dad! How’s it going? Are you sleeping? My boys are 18 and 14. When my wife says something every once in a while about missing the time when there was a little one around, I ask her if she’s crazy. She doesn’t sleep much now as it is! *sigh* Congrats once again on the new addition.
    That bit about being joined to the water was very interesting. I’ll have to let that seep in for a while. Others have pointed out about the circle of life: people pass away in our lives, but babies are added. It’s fantastic and uncanny how often that’s the case.
    We took my dad to Anaheim last weekend for an Angels game (my fair-weather 14 year old is suddenly an Angels’ fan). My mom won’t go for fear of leaving her 90+ year old mother alone. She still lives in her own home and gets around pretty well w/ a cane. I wish my mother wouldn’t stand by and allow life to pass by as she waits for that awful phone call or day when ‘Nana is gone. It’s going to hurt like hell whether she’s in Anaheim on a day trip or seven blocks away.
    Have a great week, my friend.


    1. Hey Jimmy, thanks for your comments and congratulations. I’ve always wanted kids, but I’m no spring chicken, and when I first started dating my wife (who had an almost teenager at the time), I remember thinking, “hmm. Maybe I don’t want kids. We’re only a few years away from setting this one out on her own.” But I’m glad we’ve done it. It’s been an amazing experience. Actually, my brother was just visiting. His youngest is nine, and he said they are just coming out of what he calls “the pause stage.” That’s kind of hard to think about as we sit with our one week old, but it’s been great the past couple years with my daughter, and I know we’ll have fun. On pause? Definitely. But not stopped completely.

      And a great point about your mom. I’m sure that’s going to be hard for her, but you’re right. She shouldn’t stop living her life while she waits. I’ve always been fond of the saying, “You can’t live your life for fear of dying,” and it would certainly seem that it applies to the fear of others dying.

      Thanks again for stopping by. Hope all is going well for you.

  10. Paul,

    This might be a little late but if your baby has Jaundice and you are breastfeeding him, give him some formula too. It doesn’t have to be a lot, just a few ounces a day and it makes the jaundice go away a lot faster.

    We had a baby in December who suffered the same problem and none of the nurses or doctors clued us into this. They just said, keep him on the lights and he will get better. A few weeks in and we were still having to do lights at least part time until a friend of a friend told us about the formula. This may be the one advantage that formula has over breast milk.

    Anyway, I know how rough it can be to not be able to hold your baby because of jaundice and the formula cleared it up quickly.

    1. Hey Kirk,

      I actually hadn’t tried breast feeding him myself yet 🙂

      Seriously, though, thanks for the input. We are actually at an okay point now (whew), but we had to readmit after going home for a couple of days and that was a serious drag. Actually, at our hospital they did the lights, but they also recommended the Nutramagin (or something), a formula that was specifically designed to help jaundice, and you’re right, it did help. The lights of course do the best, but formula helped. Sorry your doctors didn’t clue you in.

      Anyway, thanks for stopping by and visiting the blog.

  11. It’s taken me forever, but I’m finally back inyour comment section. Congratulations on the new baby boy! See you when you get back from sabbatical!


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