Ars Moriendi

If Us Weekly’s popular segment “Stars – They’re Just Like Us” were to compile celebrities’ personal moments from social media instead of paparazzi-stalking celebrities at seafood counters or walking dogs named after pieces of fruit, the American public might have to think more deeply about what binds us all.

Case in point, Megan Mullally, the American actor, comedian, and singer who most of us know for her hilarious portrayal of Karen in the TV sitcom Will & Grace, has posted several photos with her 97-year-old mother Martha Palmer on Instagram in the past few days.

One image shows Mullally’s hands holding her mother’s thin, manicured hands on a red plush blanket with little embroidered snowflakes. Another portrait sings the praises of the smiling and diligent duo who have cared for Palmer these past eight years, Denise Golston and Glenda Bell. The last photo on Mullally’s feed shows only Martha Palmer’s watery blue eyes with what appears to be an oxygen tube snaked across her face and a caption that reads:


“my mom’s eyes. she’s not really talking now. we just looked at each other last night for about a half hour but a lot was said.”


It is uncertain if this is the end of the road for Palmer, but anyone who views Mullally’s images and text together, you get the distinct sense that the time draws nigh. Martha Palmer’s famous daughter is most likely doing what most of us do when mortality comes calling, keeping vigil and absorbing the gravity and grace of the situation.

This intimate look at how a mother and her daughter journey through the dying process is something historians argue was a “public affair before the 20th century, when most people were cramped together in one-room hovels.” Death was unavoidable and not something we tucked away, out of plain sight. In many ways, what we post online, especially in moments as vulnerable as these, brings us full circle to whether we “simply visited the world” or not.

Say what you want about the pitfalls of social media—of not living in the moment, of putting forth a false face or staged presence, of caring too much about what others like—there is something uniquely human and hard about encountering life and death in the public sphere. You can win Emmys and a myriad of Screen Actors Guild Awards, and Death still “kindly” stops for us. Mortality is not only the great equalizer, it is also where all of us are headed. Full stop.

The digital visibility of dying well in the 21st century reminds us to consider our own impermanence, our own passions. Where do we put our energy? Our love? How important is it to stew on this frustration or that problem? To possibly even answer the questions carved into writer Raymond Carver’s tombstone:


And did you get what

you wanted from this life, even so?

I did.

And what did you want?

To call myself beloved, to feel myself

beloved on the earth.