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The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

23 December 2008

Death the revelator

With its bare trees, long, cold nights, memories of Christmases past, and avalanche of holiday cards bearing good and bad news, late December is a dark and bittersweet time.

I hesitate opening the Christmas cards. They may contain good news about a marriage or a new baby. But as we get older, they more often contain bad news about someone who is fatally ill or has died.

Yesterday I opened a padded envelope to find a CD and a note from the wife of a friend who died eight years ago. Our friend was a music editor and composer, and the CD was a recording of some of his chamber music—but not any of the music he was known to have composed.

And so I learned a 30-year-old secret. I had played the very pieces on the CD, but the publisher had attributed them to an obscure German composer of the 1800s. The printed music contained a long description of the discovery of the pieces, a bio of the composer, and commentary on the pieces themselves, all written by the editor, who happened to be our friend.

Our friend’s wife had now chosen to reveal to a few people that our friend had written the music himself in what became an elaborate practical joke on his publisher.

I’m leaving out the entertaining—and identifying—details to keep the secret going. But after a few minutes of sadness that our friend had died so young, I listened to the CD with great pleasure, happy to have a new memory of him and to be in on the joke at last.

After my father died last February, my stepmother revealed to my siblings and me that my father, too, had had a secret: He could use a computer. In fact, he even had a PayPal account and bid on things on eBay.

The four of us were flabbergasted. My father rarely cussed, but when he did, it usually was about the computer he had been forced to have at work (and which precipitated his retirement). He hated the things and vehemently rejected all our offers to help him become computer savvy. We learned to stop offering.

Apparently as the years passed, he realized it would be useful to check his investments and do other things online. Too embarrassed to admit to his kids that he wanted to learn to use a computer after all, he swore our stepbrother and stepmother to secrecy, and they got him up to speed.

After getting over our shock, my siblings and I had a good laugh and another good memory of our father to savor.

Do you have any secrets that when you are gone will entertain your family and friends and ease their grief?


Lisa said...

Oh my gosh, I can't think of any secrets I'd be leaving behind today, but the two stories you've shared here made me think I ought to come up with something! What could be better than leaving behind a funny secret for those left behind to discover?

Rick said...

Secrets? I have so many that perhaps it would be better if they just remained that way!

Interesting post, Shauna!

Happy Holidays to you and yours.

Darlene said...

Hi Shauna,

I enjoyed reading about your sly and talented friend who, years after his passing, is still giving joy and fun.

I lost a couple of dear friends this year. But each time I experience that blast of reality that there will no more visits, forwarded dirty jokes, phone calls from the road or shared passions (about Zuni fetishes, of course!) it's as fresh as the time before. There is no familiarity in loss.

The truly surprising thing to me, as the passing of family and friends becomes more frequent, is the warmth I feel when a memory shakes loose and floods my brain with recollections of shared meals, happy holidays, nights beside a river .. Losing someone hasn't become the painful, empty void that I thought it would be.

As cheesy as it might sound - hey, it's Christmas Eve, the perfect time to BE cheesy! - love really doesn't die. Instead of grieving the passing of people I loved I find myself being so grateful for having known them and for them having shared their lives and experiences with me while they were here.

Merry Christmas, Shauna!

Shauna Roberts said...

LISA, a diary like in Therese Fowler's book, Souvenir, might be even more exciting.

RICK, it sounds as if you have an exciting and mysterious past! I hope you have a good holiday too.

DARLENE, your words of comfort and wisdom were just what I needed to hear. Have a really great Christmas!

Rae Ann Parker said...

It feels like a little gift to find out something new about a family member or friend who is no longer with us. I always enjoy family storytelling, which often happens around holiday meals.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

This post has given me much to ponder. I wonder what secrets I have that could be left behind to be discovered once I shuffle from this life? That's a good one. Got me thinking.

Have a great christmas

Shauna said...


Merry Christmas sweetie!

I believe that in my over 20 years of journals lie more about me than anyone knows now...but I do plan to put those years of writing into a memoir...however, if my passing precedes the book...there will be a lot of reading going on!

Shauna, I am so sorry for the loss of your dear kitty. What a long life to enjoy together, 17 years!! My heart yearns for your peace with that, I know the connection that we have with our furry friends, is something we just can not put words to.

Happy Holidays!

Much love,

Carleen Brice said...

Naw, no matter how I try to hide my craziness, it leaks out. Happy new year!

Shauna Roberts said...

SHAUNA, the world needs your book. I hope you don't put off starting it too long. Thanks for your condolences on my kitty.

CARLEEN, happy new year to you, too. And I hate to disappoint you, but after living in New Orleans for 17 years, I don't see much craziness, only a woman who finds joy where she can because she knows what the alternative is.

Beth Yarnall said...

Well now, it wouldn't be a secret if I revealed it would it?
How wonderful to discover these things about the people you've loved. Don't you just love them all the more for being let in on the secret now? What a great thought provoking post Shauna and just in time. Thanks.

Virginia Lady said...

Hmm, I'd have to think on that one, but what a wonderful memory you have now from both of those who have passed.

Charles Gramlich said...

Now if I would find out my "Mom" had used a computer I'd have a heart attack. I can't even get her to listen to the CD player we bought her years ago.

Great stories.

Barrie said...

Very weird but this morning I finished reading a short story by Annie Proulx about some shocking secrets a dad left behind. And then I read your post this afternoon. Weird!

Barbara Martin said...

The surprises I have would not be appreciated by my older siblings, although some of my friends might be amused that I'm soon to be published.

Though I liked your story about your friend.

Shauna Roberts said...

Gee, I certainly haven't been keeping up with responding to comments on Blogger. Thanks, everyone, for continuing to visit me.

VIRGINIA LADY, yes, those are memories I'll cherish.

CHARLES, I wonder what everyday technology we'll be scared to use when we're old?

BARRIE, isn't it odd how often coincidences like that happen? It seems the older I get, the more frequent coincidences are.

BARBARA, do you plan to tell your friends and family that you're going to be published? Will you at least tell them after the book comes out?