Take a Deep Breath
Cressida Leyshon in the September 24. 2018 New Yorker speaks with Yiyun Li about her short story "When We Were Happy We Had Other Names".
I just finished the story.
I am sitting here looking at the white page on my computer screen. I think my mouth is opened. Coursing through my mind like alternating current of 220 volts is Stunned. Jealous. Frozen jolts of awe and embracing.
I want to savor the texture and taste of every word as if each one is a strawberry in May, warm from in the sun exploding its wetness on my tongue. Li is as good at desribing grief and memories as CS Lewis was in A Grief Observed. If not better in many ways.
Read Leyshon's chat with Li. It is the appitizer. I began there before the story because of her first paragraph examining the etymology of grieve. I had tried to do the same but somedays I barely put a noun near a verb. Her analysis of the word grief stopped me. Just read this.
I was thinking a lot about the etymology of the word “grieve”—from the Latin gravare, meaning “to burden,” from gravis, meaning “heavy, grave”—when I started the story. It is hard to imagine that we should call the death of a child, or that of any loved one, a burden; if grief is heaviness, one’s hope is that it doesn’t just vanish, as if the dead could easily be forgotten.
WTF is over used. And sorry to use it but… OMG is over used. Please, if you are reading this comment let me know if I have not been hitting the meds too hard and have become delusional.
Seneca On Grief (That Seneca from the year 41)
Helvia had her own share of grief and loss witnessing the deaths of her own mother who died during her birth, her husband, uncle and three grandchildren. In 41 life was not easy or guranteed. Grief was part of each day.
Seneca's writing to her I leaned is call consolatio which is a literary tradition of letters to comfort bereaved loved ones. (I guess today we do it with likes on IG or FB or Twitter RT). What Popova notes that Seneca is "The person whose misfortune is being grieved is also the consoler of the griever."
Many friends and family with amazing love and support have at times said to me when I question "Why should I have the ability to go on vacation when Donna's ashes are stuck at home. "They would say "Donna wants you to be happy as you would want her if she was here and you were not." I am not sure I do know. I have coined WWDD (What Would Donna Do) when I need to make a household purchase or by jeans for myself. After I make the decision I she's going to kick my ass when she sees me.
When you read this essay and listen to Seneca's voice from the OG days you hear a clarity of someone who understands grief and how facing it can drive knowledge.
"A man lifting his head from the very funeral pyre must need some novel vocabulary not drawn from ordinary everyday condolence to comfort his own dear ones. But every great and overpowering grief must take away the capacity to choose words, since it often stifles the voice itself"
That is what we do, those grieving who share our emotions, fears, tears, joys, knowledge, and understanding from not closing ourselves to the death of a loved one by opening our hearts and minds. In some small way I would like to imagine my musing, meme's, Tweets, and posts have helped someone somewhere. Perhaps I have reinforced in some the desire to continue to be curious about grief.
Funeral Arranging and Grief
This article is from the Peabody Gazette-Bulletin in KS "Pre-arranging Funerals Can Ease Grief at Difficult Time".
First point made which is a good one is at the time of death you really don’t want to have to make these arrangements. In the hospice I was spurred on to make arrangements for Donna. Here is how that went.
“Now would be a good time to have end-of-life discussions with her,” the Hospice Rabbi and social worker said. “What does she want for her funeral? What are her regrets? Did she find joy in her life?”
Joy? I failed her. All I could do was think of that.
I hesitated for a day. Then next afternoon, alone in the room with Donna, I looked at her in the bed and said, “Donna, perhaps you want to talk about your funeral.”
She looked over at me and said, “Don’t be a maudlin pussy.”
Then she rolled onto her side and fell asleep.
I made the funeral plans in two days. I was an account manager executing a tactical plan for a client, bang bang bang, do do do, keep moving so I don’t drown.
I didn’t realize at the time the funeral home the Rabbi recommended was a block from where we lived in Soho when we married. Memories flooded back the moment I walked the block on Bleeker Street. Sigh
Not sure if Donna and I ever considered making funeral arrangements during the three and a half years she was in treatment. Denial? Fear? Or just lazy. Making the arrangements alone felt like a metronome's steady beat tapping out a death.