I finished Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book a few days ago, and, simply, I think it was an effective exploration of death. Gaiman tells the story of a young boy whose family is murdered (violently) by “the man Jack.” The boy, as a babe, crawls away from the man Jack into the safety of a graveyard and its residents. In an effort to protect the boy, the ghosts decide to raise him as their own, and so starts the tale of Nobody—or Bod for short—Owens. You’d think because of this child’s tutelage he’d be excited by the prospect of dying; but the book successfully touches upon the idea of death and its limitations, and reinforces the values of living a full life. Of being happy. Of growing up. And I wonder, how the hell was he able to do that? (Plus, the book makes a darn good thriller for young adults.)
|Graveyard Book cover found on wickedawesomebooks.com (originally from Goodreads)
I think it is important to note that everyone, at one point in his or her life, will lose a loved one, a best friend, a lover, Fluffy. For most of my undergrad career, my grandma was very sick—bone cancer, a recurrence of breast cancer my family thought had vanished. I knew people died, my brother’s father passed away when he was just a teenager; but writing about death was always depressing, writing about it never gave me any sense of hope.
If only we could all be raised by the dead, we’d know how to better deal with it when it happens.
At one point, I became the designated funeral poet. I wrote poems for, or spoke at funerals for family members who passed, even friends of family. It started with a friend of my father who passed away when I was still in middle school. His name was Warren, like my grandfather. I was asked to speak, and brought a bike bell to help give him wings (We couldn’t find a regular bell; I was so upset because I was convinced, even in middle school, that it was tacky to bring a bike bell. I hid it behind my back.). After Warren, my Aunt Lucille. After Lucille, Uncle Harold. My Grandpa Warren. Then my Grandma Elayne.
If we’d had a funeral for my Grandma Nikki, I’d have probably written one for her, too.
And as a child, writing these poems is how I dealt with death; and how I still do to this day.
An on-the-spot poem about funeral poetry: