“They call my experience a ‘near-death experience,’” said Masha. “But I feel that is the wrong terminology because I wasn’t just near death, I was dead. I experienced death, a privilege for which I am eternally grateful. My experience, my so-called ‘near-death experience,’ was ultimately life-changing.” (11.85)
Masha’s pretty psyched for a person who was actually dead. Maybe the key is coming back to life and not staying on the other side.
It had made Zoe remember the poem her uncle Alessandro had read at her brother’s funeral, “Death Is Nothing At All.” Zoe had started thinking about how much she hated that poem, because it was all lies. (12.5)
Zoe isn’t as thrilled to talk about death as Masha is. She’s still hurting from the loss of her twin brother, Zach. When her uncle tried to blow death off as no big deal, Zoe saw right through him. Zach was gone forever and there was nothing anyone could do about it.
Banjo made it to fourteen years old. Good innings for a collie. Tony should have been ready for it, but it seemed he wasn’t. In the first week, great gusts of grief hit him whenever he put his key in the lock of his front door. A grief hard enough to buckle his knees. Contemptible. A grown man brought to his knees by a dog. (18.6)
Tony is grieving the loss of his favorite dog. Sure, in the grand scheme of things he knows losing a pet isn’t like some of the other losses a person can go through, but this one is really hurting him. Hey, grief comes in all shapes and sizes. And sometimes it’s even covered in fur.
It was an amicable divorce. Amicable on Joel’s part, anyway. On Carmel’s part, it felt like a death no one acknowledged. (21.13)
No one actually died—Carmel’s husband just got a new girlfriend—but the loss of her old life and marriage feels just as raw and bitter for Carmel. She’s experiencing a type of death, too. A death of self. It’s a bitter loss.
Their son’s death broke [Heather].
Maybe a son’s death broke any mother. (26.17-18)
Napoleon recognizes the profound impact Zach’s death had on Heather. He would like her to move forward and heal but, at the same time, he recognizes that maybe it’s not possible. How does a mother move forward after her child’s death? Maybe the loss is just too much to bear?
[Zoe] had not realized that grief was so physical. Before Zach died, she thought grief happened in your head. She didn’t know that your whole body ached with it, that it screwed up your digestive system, your menstrual cycle, your sleep patterns, your skin. You wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy. (27.5)
Zoe’s getting a first-hand look at mourning from the inside, and it’s not pretty.
“Sorry,” said Frances. “I’m not at my best. Also, I’m interested. My career might be kind of ending right now.”
Tony grimaced. “Well. They say that a sports star dies twice. The first time is when they retire.”
“And was it like a death?” asked Frances. It would feel like a death if she had to stop writing. (53.12-14)
Like Carmel’s marriage, Frances and Tony are both going through a kind of death that doesn’t really register. Tony died a mini-death when he retired from professional sports. Frances is looking her own metaphorical reality in the face as her writing career is coming to an end. The Grim Reaper works on a lot of levels.
“Are you in a relationship?”
“Yes,” said Lars. “We’ve been together for fifteen years. His name is Ray and he would probably prefer I wasn’t ‘sentenced to death.’” (63.24-25)
This is quite an understatement, but Lars is actually in a pretty serious relationship. Ray would really mourn for him if he died. Not all of the guests at Tranquillum House can say that they would be truly and deeply missed by someone special like this.
It was such a relief [for Masha] when [her husband] was gone, when she no longer had to experience the pain
of seeing the face that so resembled that of their beautiful son. (65.55)
After her son dies, Masha can’t bear to be with her husband anymore. He reminds her too much of what she lost. Her solution for dealing with death is to just push it away and pretend that the loss didn’t happen.
[Frances] had always wondered how she would feel if her life was in mortal danger. What would she do if her plane began to plummet toward earth? If a crazed gunman put the barrel to her head? If she was ever truly tested? Now she knew: she wouldn’t believe it. (71.3)
Masha has finally done it. She’s forced her nine guests into their own near-death experience. Now Frances discovers her own reaction and it’s a bit, well, underwhelming. She simply can’t believe she’s going to die. Her brain just won’t register it. (Maybe that’s because her brain secretly know it’s all right.)