A former student, sharing sad news with me, paid me a lovely compliment this past week. First he told me of his mother’s impending death from cancer. Then he said: I knew you’d want to know. And – I thought that perhaps a beginner’s heart would have ways to cope with loss.
I wish I did, as this week death’s sharp scythe cut a swathe through my usual comfortable disregard. Buddhists are enjoined to contemplate death regularly. Meditation in graveyards is common among many Buddhists, to remind us that life is very short. We haven’t much time to get our earthly houses straight.
So Bryan is correct: I should have ways to think about death and grief and loss. But the death of this dear student’s mother is only one of a string of deaths this past week. Death in the afternoon. Death in the grey early morning. Death to the undeserving. It seems to have enveloped me this week.
First a former colleague, once a good friend, although we’d lost contact since her retirement. Brilliantly literate, devastatingly witty, it seems impossible to me that Dale isn’t somewhere just around the corner, armed with a Dorothy Parker rejoinder.
Next Bryan’s mother, about my age. The mother of accomplished children, obviously well-loved. As well as, equally obviously, a stellar parent. Her son loves her dearly, and she figured sometimes in his writing. Always favourably.
And then a dear friend and colleague — a woman whose quiet affect hid a riotously funny and earthy sense of humour. Judy’s death was completely unexpected — she collapsed from a quick-growing brain tumour and died within the week. No one even knew she was ill. This was one of the hardest — a dear friend whose turbulent life had finally made smooth harbour: retirement, a new beau, a house in a community where many knew and loved her. This after a difficult life. And then quickly, irrevocably, gone.
There were other deaths this week, as well: the sudden death of a high school friend, a car accident still smoking when I turned the corner to find it sprawled before me. Another equally difficult one: the death of a dear friend’s beloved partner, also from cancer. So unfair ~
I don’t really expect Death to be fair, to take only the wicked or the unloved. And to be honest? I’m sure there are numbers of people who die unmourned. Which may be just as sad, if I think about it.
Of course I realise that we begin dying the moment we are born, evading death time after time — privileged & lucky. The test that said I had leukemia at 16? Wrong person. The motorcycle accidents in my reckless youth? Not one serious. A bad car accident? I was wearing my seat belt. The long childbirth of my first-born? Had I been my mother’s generation, we might well have died…Instead, chronology and access to a neonatal centre saved us both.
Over & over I have met and acknowledged my mortality. But this week it seems as if the entire universe conspires to remind me: middle age, Britt. Middle age and then… Friends are dying. Friends are ill. Life is a spool of ribbon cut far too early by a Greek woman named Atropos, wielding sharp blades.
To my knowledge, there is no short-cut through grief. I’m not certain we ever ‘get over’ loss, really. I miss my mother, my father, my grandmothers and great-aunts, often. Sometimes for days at a time. No longer a sharp knife thrust, true. But still a gut wound. Still a piece of my world snatched…
I wish I had some magic words, some incantatory ritual or a belief that would comfort Bryan, Misha, me. I wish I believed in an afterlife where I would meet and know the missing, the lost. That belief comforts many of my friends and family. For me, all I have is a promise that I will not forget. And that I will try, each fleeting day, to let all the many people I can still hug, have tea with, send a dumb email, how much you mean to me.
Consider yourself notified ~