While it’s common to wonder what happens after we die, it’s not as common — or as pleasing a discussion at a party, say — to speculate on how we will age and eventually pass.
However, this question posed itself quite plainly to author and essayist Douglas Bauer when, in his early sixties, he found himself needing a series of routine surgical procedures. As he was waking up from the first of two cataract surgeries, Bauer received word that his mother passed away.
This experience was the catalyst for Bauer’s moving collection of personal essays, “What Happens Next?” (University of Iowa Press).
“The surprise of her death brought mood and meaning to days I’d been viewing as nothing more profound than some busy weeks of medical maintenance. But in the wake of her dying I felt myself inside a life of uncanny design, one marked by the dual calendars of her aging and passing and the suddenly heightened sense of my own mortality.”
While Bauer address difficult topics to be sure, his essays makes one pensive, not depressed. And there’s plenty of humor mixed in. In “What We Hunger For,” Bauer tells of eating his way across New Orleans with legendary food writer M.F.K. Fisher. While Fisher and Bauer’s mother were vastly different people (Bauer’s mother didn’t care to travel past Des Moines), he moves back and forth between their stories, demonstrating how both women were courageous in their own ways: “It seemed to me then, and still does, that a certain frame of mind- a particular courage — is required to live comfortably enough in a single landscape that holds your past, your present, your future. The more local your life, the more you look at the details of your ending.”
In addition to reflections on his life and what will come next for him as he ages, Bauer also ruminates on what it means to be from Iowa, and how, though he has moved away, “where I began was who I was.”
Exquisitely written with beautiful form, Bauer has written a collection for the ages.