Our fourth Christmas with our white tree, in memory of Josh.
His initials, JLA, underneath a white dove.
Everyone was home this year and we missed you!
...until we die we will remember every
single thing, recall every word, love every
loss: then we will, as we must, leave it to
others to love, love that can grow brighter
and deeper till the very end, gaining strength
and getting more precious all the way....
I feel like I am slowly shriveling up inside - or better said, contracting within myself - bringing the world around me into a close circle: my home, my family, my work and that's about it. My "people world" is very small and only by necessity. Truthfully, I find being with people and making conversation, exhausting.
But my internal world has expanded for I have gone back in time, all the way to the ancient Greek and Roman writers, and to Shakespeare in the Elizabethan time and have found a newly discovered genre, tragedy, from which to garner meaning around our own tragic experience.In my journal, I did reflect that Tim has continued seeking and expanding his external world which is fine - just another way that we have handled our grief differently.
God, whose law it is that he who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget, falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despite, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.
(Aeschylus in Agamemnon, quoted by Edith Hamilton in The Greek Way).The works of the four greatest tragedians (Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Shakespeare) have explored the depths of human pain and suffering and the resulting dignity, resiliency and fortitude of the human spirit. Lessons abound in these works. And Aristotle is right - a catharsis does occur when reading or viewing tragedy, which is a difficult paradox to explain. How is it that I feel purged, cleansed or more connected to my own deep feelings when I see or read about the suffering of others?
A civilization eager to look death in the face, but one that seemed to draw strength from what it found there. The more the ancient Greeks pondered the transience and fragility and pain of human life, the more convinced they became of its dignity and its significance...So what Kennedy found in the Greeks was an ethos that embraced the tragic complexity of life and didn't back away from it, that wasn't afraid of it, embraced it, but drew strength from it and not defeat....Freedom to choose - the courage, the manner, and the dignity with which one confronts that fate; to turn death, to which we are all bound, into destiny.I wrote these quotes from Golder's talk in my journal because they express the relevance of the ancient works to our times, for despite how different my life is to those who lived in the 5th century BC or in Shakespeare's time, our hearts and souls are the same.
Pain is the great teacher. I woke before dawn with this thought. Joy, happiness, are what we take and do not question. They are beyond question, maybe. A matter of being. But pain forces us to think, and to make connections, to sort out what is what, to discover what has been happening to cause it. And, curiously enough, pain draws us to other human beings in a significant way, whereas joy or happiness to some extent, isolates.I like this quote very much; it is succinct and feels true. What can be learnt from joy or happiness? As she says, they are states of being that we may aspire to obtain but then what? Once there, isn't it simply a matter of enjoying and hoping to prolong that state of bliss?
All sorrow feels ancient.Only four words which rings so true. Why? What is this "ancient sorrow"? These were the questions I sought to answer in my journal.
...the black cloud of sorrow closed on Achilles. In both hands he caught up the grimy dust, and poured it over his head and face, and fouled his handsome countenance, and the black ashes were scattered over his immortal tunic. And he himself, mightily in his might, in the dust lay at length, and took and tore at his hair with his hands and defiled it......Antilochos mourned with him, letting the tears fall, and held the hands of Achilles as he grieved in his proud heart, fearing Achilles might cut his throat with the iron...(Book 18: 22-34).
When Achilles heard about Patroklos' death, his reaction was both emotional "black cloud of sorrow" and physical. This black cloud - not grey, not cream, not white as clouds usually are, but black, dark, ebony, rich and deep - this cloud closed on Achilles. Enveloped him. He was in a fog of sorrow - for that is what fog is - a cloud resting on the earth's surface which can become so thick, one cannot see. If driving, one must pull over. If flying, the plane is grounded. A fog will render you senseless - cannot see, hearing is muted. All sense of direction lost; landmarks are invisible. The world is alienating, distorted and frightening. In a fog I feel insecure and vulnerable like someone or something can come out to grab me. To be in a 'black cloud of sorrow' - nothing will look or feel the same. Everything is felt, seen, tasted, heard through the fog. Like lens on a glass - everything will look black. Feel black. There is a black veil or sheath covering everything. Living, sleeping and breathing in the black cloud of sorrow so that it is internal - no longer out of the body but within.The next day I wrote this:
When Achilles heard about Patroklos' death and was enveloped in the black fog of grief, sorrow, pain and woe, he had a physical reaction. An outward sign of inward pain. He bent down and grabbed dirt, dust, Earth and poured it over his head - a self baptism - rubbing it all over his face. Priam, King of Troy did something similar when he heard of his son Hektor's death - he took dung and smeared it on his head and neck. Both fouled themselves saying my beloved is dead; I do not care about outward things any longer. Why dirt? Why dung? What would be the equivalent today? Maybe someone who is so depressed they do not shave or shower, put on make-up, deodorant or perfume. They wear the same thing, day after day. Who cares what you look like or wear in the 'black cloud of sorrow'? Achilles then drops to the ground, this mighty warrior whom no man could stand against, lays prostrate on the dirt in agony and grief. Then, in an effort to feel real, searing, physical pain, he takes tufts of hair in his hands and yanks them out.Writing all this made me think of our reactions on that dreaded day. And specifically how one of our daughters, whom Tim could not contact as she was in class - oblivious and naive to the tragedy that would change her life, listening to the lecture, taking notes and answering questions posed by the professor - when she heard the news from two best friends who were waiting outside the door, she collapsed and become almost catatonic. Her friends somehow got her back to her room where she just sat on the bed while they packed her bag. UVA is a good two hours away and thankfully, these two friends (angels) drove our girls home. There is no way they could've driven themselves.
I will never forget him, never so long as I remain among the living and my knees have their spring beneath me. And though the dead forget the dead in the house of Hades, even there I shall still remember my beloved companion (Book 22: 387 - 390).
I have of late - but wherefore I know not - lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises, and indeed it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory; this most excellent canopy, the air - look you, this brave overhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire - why, it appears no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapors (II, II, 287 - 299).And in one of the most famous lines of English literature, Hamlet ponders whether living, with all the "slings and arrows" that come our way is better than the eternal sleep of death, which puts an end to all "heartache and the thousand natural shocks."
To be, or not to be? That is the question -Hamlet is a tragedy of epic proportions. By the end of the play, almost everyone is dead. In this midst of all this mayhem, I am most interested in how grief is portrayed.
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And, by opposing, end them? To die, to sleep -
No more - and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to - 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished! (III, I, 57 - 65).
Oh, this is the poison of deep grief. It springs all from her father's death, and now behold!....Poor Ophelia divided from herself and her fair judgement, without the which we are pictures, or mere beasts (IV,V,73-74 and 82-84).She wanders to the riverbank, climbs a tree and falls into the water. She does nothing to save herself and so drowns. At the cemetery, the gravediggers discuss how she who "willfully seeks her own salvation" would not normally be given a Christian burial and so conclude that she was from a wealthy family.
L: Must there no more be done?
Priest: No more be done. We should profane the service of the dead to sing a requiem and such rest to her as to peace-parted souls.
L: Lay her i' th' earth, and from her fair and unpolluted flesh may violets spring! I tell thee, churlish priest, a ministering angel shall my sister be when thou liest howling (V, I, 217 - 225).My margin notes: Agreed! Priest is a self-righteous b***!
L: Hold off the earth awhile till I have caught her once more in my arms. Now pile your dust upon the quick and dead, till of this flat a mountain you have made, t' o'ertop old Pelion or the skyish head of blue Olympus.
H: What is he whose grief bears such an emphasis, whose phrase of sorrow conjures the wandering stars, and makes them stand like wonder-wounded hearers? This is I, Hamlet the Dane (V, I, 233-242).
(Modern translation - Who is the one whose grief is so loud and clear, whose words of sadness make the planets stand still in the heavens as if they've been hurt by what they've heard?)It is difficult to express the depths of my grief which is why I have come to love Shakespeare's tragedies. He writes what I feel.
But to persever in obstinate condolement is a courseBasically Claudius is saying, "stop grieving and move on." And that it is "unmanly" to be so despondent. "How dare Claudius judge Hamlet's grief", my reading voice retorts.
Of impious stubbornness. 'Tis unmanly grief.
It shows a will more incorrect to heaven,
A heart unfortified, a mind impatient,
An understanding simple and unschooled (I, II, 92-97)
Oh, that this too, too sullied flesh would melt,At the end of Act I, the ghost of Hamlet's father reveals to Hamlet that he has been murdered by Claudius. He wants his son to exact revenge for the loss of his life, wife and crown. In parting, he voices what all the dead would say: "Adieu, adieu, adieu. Remember me." I love Hamlet's response - his commitment to remembering his father.
Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew,
Or that the Everlasting had not fixed
His canon 'gainst self-slaughter! O God, God!
How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world! (I, II, 129-134)
Remember thee!"Remembering Josh" is the title of this blog - for a reason. "Running to Remember Josh" was printed on the backs of this year's marathon/half-marathon shirts purposefully. Is it too exaggerated to say that one of my life's ambition and goal is to remember my beloved son? No, I don't think so. It feels like a solemn, honorable duty - one that I could never tire of. It is why his pictures are still all over the house, why I have a tattoo of his name, in his handwriting on my arm, why I visit his gravesite every week and write a letter to him, why I sometimes wear his clothes.
Ay, thou poor ghost, whiles memory holds a seat
In this distracted globe. Remember thee!
Yea, from the table of my memory
I'll wipe away all trivial fond records,
All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past
That youth and observation copied there,
And thy commandment all alone shall live
Within the book and volume of my brain,
Unmixed with baser matter (I, V, 95-104).
The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.
The greenness of grief - its returning, like the leaves - seems to me one of the best ways to understand it as an experience. It is perennial, yet ebbs and flows, "Like something almost being said." Even grief's lessening can be something to be mourned; ironically, there are days when, by not feeling so bad, we fear and feel we are betraying our loved ones.YES - I write in the margin! Sometimes, instead of feeling sad, I actually feel content in my life right now because of the stronger ties to my immediate and extended family, to my friends and to the community through JAF, and wonder how can I feel content, when Josh is not here? What kind of mother am I? And then I feel guilt, but in a different kind of way. Not guilt about his death, but guilt in moving past his death. Kind of a "catch 22" or "damned if I do and damned if I don't". Who knew the grieving process could be so complicated?
Notes from the Other Side
by Jane Kenyon
I divested myself of despair
and fear when I came here.
Now there is no more catching
one's own eye in the mirror,
there are no bad books, no plastic,
no insurance premiums, and of course no illness.
Contrition does not exist, nor gnashing of teeth.
No one howls as the first clod of earth hits the casket.
The poor we no longer have with us.
Our calm hearts strike only the hour,
and God, as promised, proves
to be mercy clothed in light.
The process of grief, I have found, can mirror that of writing: it is surprising, trying, frustrating, daunting, terrifying, comforting, chastening, challenging, and at times, heartening; grief can provide fellowship with others interested in the experience; it brings out the best in us, and at times the worst, if only because it is utterly human. It can feel inevitable, but it is so personal, so differently pitched for each, that it can reside across a great gulf. Yet poetry, like grief, can be the thing that bridges the gap between us, that brings us together and binds us.This poem makes me wonder what Josh's friends, close and peripheral, will remember after another seventeen years. Will they still "hear" him?