Memento Mori by Thad DeVassie

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I was in the car on my way to see my mother, who is in an unknowing, unwinnable battle with dementia, when this earworm took hold.

Memento Mori – remember that you will die.

It came from Seth Godin’s audiobook The Icarus Deception. I was half-listening, half-daydreaming when I heard him garble something in Latin and follow it up with the translation in his trademark deadpan delivery – we are all going to die – with an emphatic emphasis on die, which is a far cry from an Axl Rose …you’re in the jungle baby! You’re gonna die! type of exhortation. His delivery was more along the lines of exhausted, irreverent psychotherapist who just had a rather long and unpleasant day and you, exasperating human, are one patient too many.

Seth makes hundreds of observations, in his own Seinfeldian way, about the fear of making and shipping your art – in essence the work you do, or want to do, or are afraid to do, however you choose to define it.


Seth’s voice continued to ramble on for a good five or so minutes thereafter, all of it white noise, before I stopped the narrative at a presumed chapter break in the parking lot. All I could think of was Memento Mori. He had a point. And I could not recall it. All I know is that death has accompanied me on this visit numerous times before, or at least the thought of death – a morbid reaper buckled in next to me, his shiny scythe in the backseat, and his usual, nonverbal nod as if to say – you go ahead, it’s not my time.

Remember that…

The memory care facility – despite all of its trinkets, mementos and framed botanicals to mirror a distant great aunt’s idea of a cozy apartment – might as well be purgatory. Nobody is rising up and walking out. Everyone who is present is simply waiting. For what, no one can articulate.

The woman who gave me life, who I came to see, has no concept that she is dying. Her brain casts off little satellites of knowledge and function, leaving her orbit. She acknowledges some trouble with her memory now and then, but nothing serious, and certainly nothing to fuss over.

Remember that you will…

Unlike most of the residents, my mother is perhaps more alive here than she was at home. More stimuli, more people that she believes she is visiting, encouraging, helping. More hallways to explore. More exercise than ever before. More detached from who she was as she forms this extroverted, late-chapter version of her identity.

It is good this way. For a change, it’s good not to know or to remember. Facts that not long ago swam in deep lucid pools of gray and white matter are now on a perpetual rest break. Nobody needs the burden of knowledge that the reaper has decided to unbuckle and grab his tools of the trade, only to come lurking around the corner, perhaps eyeballing your frail lunch mate before firmly setting his sights on you.

Remember that you will die.

As I leave the memory care unit, I keep hearing that statement, Seth’s perfectly timed Memento Mori before I killed the engine just hours ago to walk inside. It is a lot to carry. Even if it’s just back to the car in an empty parking lot where he awaits to share another observation that stings. What he failed to say, and what is stinging now, is that the art we ship is grief.


Thad DeVassie’s work has appeared in numerous publications including New York Quarterly, Poetry East, West Branch, Juked, Collateral, Unbroken, Lunate, PANK and Barely South. His chapbook, THIS SIDE OF UTOPIA is forthcoming from Cervena Barva Press. A lifelong Ohioan, he writes from the outskirts of Columbus.

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