My Friends Don’t Get Buried
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
No more undertakers in black suits
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.
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.
Excerpt from Lake Wobegon Days by Garrison Keillor, ©1985
Excerpted from The Holy Man by Susan Trott ©1995:
Chapter 8: Grieving Man
“I have lost my wife,” he told Joe (the Holy Man) when Joe invited him to sit down. “She has been taken from me. She is gone. I loved her so much. Now I will never see her again.”
“Did she die?”
“Yes, that is what I am saying. She is gone.”
“Well, she could have left. That would have been worse. Then you would still never see her again but have to suffer the added pain of rejection. But this is very sad. I am sorry that you had to give her back before she gave you back.”
“I beg your pardon? Give her back?”
“Yes, you are adding to your grief by being such a victim. If you say to yourself that you have given her back, you will feel better. Because, you see, she was never yours. Nothing that you have is yours. It never was yours.”
“But that’s crazy, my possessions are mine. My children are mine. And my wife…”
“No, they are not yours. Only you are yours. Not your possessions, not your children, not your wife. You will have to give them all back. You do not get to keep any of them.”
Our culture doesn’t accept death gracefully.
Dylan Thomas famously advised:
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Death notices frequently contain the phrase “lost his fight,” as if death were a defeat, a moral failure of some sort.
I watched our friend and neighbor being loaded into an ambulance this afternoon. She had wanted to die at home, but I guess things changed. I could see the twinkle was gone from her eyes already, the spark of exuberance that defined her is gone.
She had a good life. She’s ready to go.
And I hope she goes gentle into that good night.