Sunday, January 27, 2008

Deathbed visit

I've been away again unexpectedly, to visit my grandfather who is dying.

It's strange in this culture to admit that, to come to a place where we accept that death is the next natural step of a life. I want to fight it, even as he has admitted it.

I'm not one of those people who believe that people "in the old days" didn't mourn death or think it was unfair and difficult to endure, but I do wonder if they were less shocked by it. It's such an affront to us, isn't it, in our vital society?

And I feel constant grief for my mother, mostly, who is caring for him now and will then be an orphan, and who daily remembers her mother, gone too soon almost 18 years ago.

I remember, after my grandmother died, my mother and I were hanging a quilt my grandmother had made for me toward the end. My mother was snapping at me for not hanging it straight and for pulling too hard on it and perhaps ripping it with the pins we were trying to use to hold it. I couldn't understand why she was being so unreasonable. Finally, finally, my 14-year-old mind opened to the fact that this was her mother who had died. Ohhhh. What a terrible, terrible loss if my mother had died. And so begins empathy. But I wonder, when death was more of a constant companion and a visitor to people's homes and not just their hospitals, if there was simply more awareness of it.

As to grief, there is proof enough of griefs past. Strange to think that all these mourners themselves are now long gone, but I think of Ben Jonson grieving his 7-year-old firstborn son:
Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy; My sin was too much hope of thee, loved boy.

Or John Milton desolate from his wife's death after childbirth:
Methought I saw my late espoused Saint ... But O as to embrace me she enclin'd I wak'd, she fled, and day brought back my night.

Deathbed visit == Hobo Mama
And, in these instances of the death of a parent, I always think of Emily Dickinson's letter to her sister after the death of their mother:
Dear Sister.
I have thought of you with confiding Love, but to speak seemed taken from me - Blow has followed blow, till the wondering terror of the Mind clutches what is left, helpless of an accent -
Mother has now been gone five Weeks. We should have thought it a long Visit, were she coming back - Now the "Forever" thought almost shortens it, as we are nearer rejoining her than her own return - We were never intimate Mother and Children while she was our Mother - but Mines in the same Ground meet by tunneling and when she became our Child, the Affection came - when we were Children and she journeyed, she always brought us something. Now, would she bring us but herself, what an only Gift - Memory is a strange Bell-Jubilee, and Knell.


Would he bring us but himself, what an only Gift.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
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