Sunday, 23 September 2012

Sunday Salon: Something on Grief

Today Preston talks about grief and how there is a space for grief not just at funerals.
Preston normally writes over at see Prestonblog where he writes about art and faith and about writing (because he does a lot of that).
I met Preston through my dear friend Anna who organised for the three of us to have an amazingly fun dinner (you see, the three of us - we like to cook, eat good food, and talk about our blogs). Since then, Preston's writing has made me laugh, has made me cry, has made me think. I hope you get the same joy out of reading his words.

I don’t cry at funerals.

I feel that it’s important to inform you of that upfront. The rest of this would be an exercise in a kind of cheap sentimentality if I did not.

I cry in other circumstances: moments of joy, ordinary graces, when the Host is lifted during the Eucharist, when films end with impossibly true endings—either for the better or the worse. I weep for the sad things, I weep for the sad, but funerals have never moved me to tears. Sometimes before, sometimes after, but not during.

A fistful of dirt upon the coffin. A lily dropped into void. My face offers nothing but solemn recognition, an awareness that something has been lost, but I know then only the smudgness of it, not the something of it.

It is, ultimately, an exercise in self-preservation.


My grandmother wore black for weeks after my grandfather died.

I’m not sure many people noticed. It was an old custom, the mark of the widow, the mark of the grieved, but it didn’t translate.

Would you like to try this perfume? Perhaps entice some man?

That was in a mall once, I think but a few months after. I think she had stopped wearing black by then. I think the sales girl who asked meant nothing of offense. I think these things over and over as my grandmother tells me the story and fights not to weep over it again.

I think I should know what to do in this moment, but I can offer nothing beyond what I think is but an empty bowl, outstretched, to catch her words and hold them for a time as my own.


And what they have stammered ever since
are fragments
of your ancient name.

Rilke, to God, on the fracturing unwholeness of death.


I am a Christian, so I believe in the resurrection of the dead.

I say that as preface to this other bit I want to focus on, which is not about resurrection but the question of before, or, rather, the question of endurance. The question of during.

In the Gospel of St. John, when Mary and Martha mourn the loss of their brother Lazarus, we glimpse the culture of the day. Their mourning is not in isolation or in measured moments, but with a community around them. Their home, full of those who mourn along side them, who sit and listen, speak nothing, allow grief to be a palpable thing, something that sits in the space with them, speaks to them, threatens, perhaps, to overtake them.

There is the moment when Martha rises to meet Jesus far off, to demand why He did not come sooner, to confront. And this is the image that resonates, the image I think of before I think I am a Christian, so I believe in the resurrection of the dead.

When Martha goes to meet Jesus, everyone who was with her follows. They say nothing, from what we can tell, but they follow all the same. Where her grief takes her, they go. The question of duration. Grief observed, not cast aside.


What am I trying to say here?

I am trying, in fragment, to suggest something about how we understand death. Modern culture has insisted that we grieve in haste, that we leave the infirm in their pain until they are numb enough to sit in our alleged peacefulness once more.

Here, my bias is showing, I grant. But what I am saying is this: perhaps we need to be a collective people when grief comes. Perhaps, when I can’t cry at funerals, I can cry in the before and after because tears are needed in those moments, too. Perhaps.

And what they have stammered ever since
are fragments
of your ancient name.


I keep turning it over.

I keep hurtling it up to the vaulted heavens, wondering if it should reach the throne of God.

As I sit, here, beside the one now having lost. As I weep in the before, the after, and ponder this strange place of during.

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