Grief

I can’t make the BBC embed code work with WordPress, but here’s the link:  LINK

If you have eight minutes, it’s a really helpful little video.

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I can’t be funny.

This is an excerpt of a letter Will Rogers wrote about the death and funeral of his sister Maude sometime in the early 1920s.  The sadness is compounded because the poor man felt he had to hide from his public persona.

From Will Rogers: His Story As Told By His Wife, by Betty Rogers, © 1941:

Today, as I write this, I am out in Oklahoma among my people, my Cherokee people, who don’t expect a laugh for everything I say.

That silent prayer that those three hundred ministers uttered didn’t save my sister. She has passed away. But she had lived such a life that it was a privilege to pass away. Death didn’t scare her. It was only an episode in her life. If you live right, death is a joke to you, so far as fear is concerned.

And on the day that I am supposed to write a humorous article, I am back home at the funeral of my sister. I can’t be funny. I don’t want to be funny. Even Mr. Ziegfeld don’t want me to be funny. I told him I wanted to go. He said, “I would hate you if you didn’t.” I told W.C. Fields, the principal comedian of the show. He said, “Go on. I will do something to fill in.” Brandon Tynan, my friend of years, said, “Go home where you want to be and where you ought to be.”

I have just today witnessed a funeral that, for real sorrow and real affection, I don’t think will ever be surpassed anywhere. They came in every mode of conveyance, on foot, in buggies, horseback, wagons, cars and trains, and there wasn’t a soul that came that she hadn’t helped or favored at one time or another…

Some uninformed newspapers printed: “Mrs. C.L. Lane, sister of the famous comedian, Will Rogers.” It’s the other way around. I am the brother of Mrs. C.L. Lane, the friend of humanity. And I want to tell you that, as I saw all those people who were there to pay tribute to her memory, it was the proudest moment of my life that I was her brother.

And all the honors that I could ever in my wildest dreams hope to reach would never equal the honor paid on a little Western prairie hilltop, among her people, to Maude Lane.

If they love me like that at my finish, my life will not have been in vain.

Silence

“When you drop a glass or a plate to the ground, it makes a loud crashing sound. When a window shatters, a table leg breaks, or when a picture falls off the wall, it makes a noise. But as for your heart, when that breaks, it’s completely silent. You would think that for something so important, it would make the loudest noise in the whole world, or even have some sort of ceremonious sound like the gong of a symbol or the ringing of a bell. But it’s silent and you almost wish there was a noise to distract you from the pain.”  ~Cecelia Ahern, If You Could See Me Now (via)

I have always thought death would be easier to accept if it were accompanied by a clap of thunder and an orchestral flourish.

The aching begins with the horrible silence.

Paisley

Grief is a weird thing. It can hit you out of nowhere.

I was in Stein Mart last week and found a wonderful paisley shirt, and as I was heading towards the checkout it suddenly hit me that the only other person who would be as excited about this shirt as I was would have been my mother, but she’s gone.

So I didn’t get the shirt, and it knocked me down for a long, long time.  It’s strange to consider that something as simple as a pretty shirt can light the tinder.

Anyway.

Mona and I went to see ELO in Dallas Monday night, and I was still so depressed we almost didn’t make it.  Mona was ready to punt and drive me home.  But I did rally enough to make it into the venue, and once we there we both had a great time. The crowd sang, danced, and were totally immersed in the experience.  This was Jeff Lynne’s first tour in thirty years, and he hasn’t lost a step.

It was healing.

While the silence

My Friends Don’t Get Buried
Edward Hirsch

My friends don’t get buried
in cemeteries anymore, their wives
can’t stand the sadness
of funerals, the spectacle
of wreaths and prayers, tear-soaked
speeches delivered from the altar,
all those lies and encomiums,
the suffocating smell of flowers
filling everything.
No more undertakers in black suits
clutching handkerchiefs,
old buddies weeping in corners,
telling off-color stories, nipping shots,
no more covered mirrors,
black dresses, skullcaps and crucifixes.
Sometimes it takes me a year or two
to get out to the back yard in Sheffield
or Fresno, those tall ashes scattered
under a tree somewhere in a park
somewhere in New Jersey.
I am a delinquent mourner
stepping on pine-cones, forgetting to pray.
But the mourning goes on anyway
because my friends keep dying
without a schedule,
without even a funeral,
while the silence
drums us from the other side,
the suffocating smell of flowers
fills everything, always,
the darkness grows warmer, then colder,
I just have to lie down on the grass
and press my mouth to the earth
to call them
so they would answer.

I had to look up the word “enconium.”

You can hear this poem read by the author at The New Yorker.

Living in the Maha-Mantra

They say there are no atheists in foxholes, but that hasn’t been my experience. My moments of loss and fear are the times I feel most alone.

I’ve read more religious texts than most, from all the major religions and quite a few of the minor ones, and they’ve helped make me a better person, but faith just isn’t the protective armor for me that it seems to be for others.

This has been a rather robotic existence since I lost my mother. I’m doing all the things I’ve always done– exercising, praying, eating nice meals, writing letters– but I’m not taking any joy in them. I just do them out of habit, and out of fear that if I stop moving I’ll never start again.

I’m trying very hard to live in the present. The past is gone, the future looks bleak, so if there’s any time to be happy, it’s right now. Still, I’m struggling.

There are people who depend upon me. I have responsibilities. I can’t let them down.

Hare was the creative force, Krishna was the enjoyer of the present, Rama was all about duty. I suppose I’m tilted heavily toward Rama at the moment.

“When you feel there is an unfair burden on your shoulders, that’s just the way it is sometimes.” ~Forrest Gump

That quote makes me smile. I wouldn’t say I have an unfair burden; people have helped me in the past, now I’m helping people in the present. That’s just the way it is.

Rama, Rama…