There are no words.
So many notes, books, poems all offered with genuine, hopeless chagrin: There are no words . . . Still we seek to find them. In many ways we are recrafted by each death – how we place our feet on the floor the morning after on foreign carpet fibers and confront in the mirror an alien face with swollen eyes, unable at first to lay hands on the distant toothbrush hanging as usual and so strangely in its holder. An exile in our own life, we wander through clouds of chaos trying to find our way back to our formerly functional selves.
Death. Sometimes it comes creeping in through the pores of our knowing like the sun steadily warming, nothing to take particular note of until afterwards when tender shoulders let you know that you’ve been burned. My mother’s death was like this. Lung cancer. The diagnosis wrote the program and we could read “The End” at the bottom of the chart. Still, in the dusky hours of that grey February morning I was surprised that the sun had the strength to rise. So much goes on in this world without the aid of a human hand. I soothed the burn with friendship, folding sheets and filing forms.
Twenty years earlier, when my first husband died 3 months after the wedding of Hodgkin’s Disease I got the news from Marcus Welby (old time TV doctor). A young man with all the symptoms that Bob had received a diagnosis of Hodgkin’s and everyone acknowledged it was a death sentence. But at the end of the show, the diagnosis was incorrect – happy ending. People in general weren’t so upfront then, and I asked at the hospital the next day if Hodgkin’s was what we were dealing with in Bob. Everyone danced around the word. The waltz ended on a blowy December night. I learned afterwards that depression was just not caring if the sun came up at all. But even then, in my self-centered early years, I knew that my pain did not compare to his mother’s. She taught me that grace is a buttress and true strength has no sharp edges.
This death was followed by my maternal grandmother’s. Gigi. Her love for me was so pure, I didn’t want to let go, even as I negotiated for days with the hospital to turn off the machines. I still needed her. I was nearly forty and not nearly grown.
My father’s death dropped like a stone. A car accident. A phone call from my uncle that my dad was headed over to his dad’s when he didn’t make it. Aw, I replied. My grandfather was 100 years old, his passing was sad, but such a long life. . .
No. (Words interrupted) It was Dad.
Scottie was dead.
His Escort had been run over by a Cadillac blasting through a red light. I flew to Florida, picked up his gasoline soaked wallet in a zip lock bag from the hospital and drove with my uncle to tell my Grandfather the tragic news. Dreading this conversation, weeping in the elevator, my uncle told me it would be all right. “Dad is a good soldier.” And he was. A few tears that didn’t even last long enough to reach his tight jaw and determined chin. The driver of the Cadillac received a $68 traffic ticket. I settled the estate in self-concious grief.
Don’t ask me why (no words) but I’ve been revisiting these deaths as I try and find my footing after losing our Stephie. Part of me feels myself coming out of the fog, but I’m not sure I want to come out where the sun shines so clearly on reality. Still having trouble talking to friends on the street. I like being around people, I just don’t want to explain how I am feeling – can’t find the words, don’t want to pick at the wound.
The following poems have been sent to me by friends who went looking for words. In one of the best movies of all time, II Postino , an Italian postman steals the poems of a famous poet (Naruda) to woo his beloved. The poet confronts the theft and the postman replies, “a poem does not belong to the poet, but to the person who needs it the most.” So, forsaking all copyright laws, I share these poems for the next time you find yourself without words.
From my daughter Kelly:
I carry Your Heart With Me
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling) i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)
From Jane Yolen:
Dirge Without Music
by Edna St. Vincent Millay
I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.
Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains,–but the best is lost.
The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love, —
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.
Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave,
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.
From Georgia Heard:
Song by Faiz Ahmed Faiz
Pain will cease, do not grieve, do not grieve–
Friends will return, the heart will rest, do not grieve, do not grieve–
The wound will be made whole, do not grieve, do not grieve–
Day will come forth, do not grieve, do not grieve–
The cloud will open, night will decline, do not grieve, do not grieve–
The seasons will change, do not grieve, do not grieve
From my friends at Fremd High School in Palatine, IL
Excerpt from A Grief Observed, by C.S.Lewis
“There are moments, most unexpectedly, when something inside me tries to assure me that I don’t really mind so much, not so very much, after all. Love is not the whole of a man’s life. I was happy before I ever met H. I’ve plenty of what are called ‘resources.’ People get over these things. Come, I shan’t do so badly. One is ashamed to listen to this voice but it seems for a little to be making out a good case. Then comes a sudden jab of red-hot memory and all this ‘commonsense’ vanishes like an ant in the mouth of a furnace.”
From Pam Munoz Ryan
Sonnet XCIV by Pablo Neruda
If I die, survive me with such sheer force
that you waken the furies of the pallid and the cold,
from south to south lift your indelible eyes,
from sun to sun dream through your singing mouth.
I don’t want your laughter or your steps to waver,
I don’t want my heritage of joy to die.
Do not call up my person. I am absent.
Live in my absence as if in a house.
Absence is a house so vast
that inside you will pass through its walls
and hang pictures on the air.
Absence is a house so transparent
that I, lifeless, will see you, living,
and if you suffer, my love, I will die again.
And from several people, attributed to different authors. My best attempt at research is that was written by Ohio poet, Mary Frye (but of disputed origin).
Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am in a thousand winds that blow,
I am the softly falling snow.
I am the gentle showers of rain,
I am the fields of ripening grain.
I am in the morning hush,
I am in the graceful rush
Of beautiful birds in circling flight,
I am the starshine of the night.
I am in the flowers that bloom,
I am in a quiet room.
I am in the birds that sing,
I am in each lovely thing.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there. I do not die.