Five years

E.U.P.  February 27, 1995 — March 24, 2005.

[I posted the photograph above and the poem below for the past two years on this date.  Most of the explanatory text below, last year too.

Muted backstory about my nephew here (I provided an anchor link to the relevant part, but it seems to not be working).

I continue to find it near impossible to write here in public about my nephew, the flesh and blood boy, much less about his illness and death. Though I will mark this day this way. Slightly more possible has been my attempt to describe the mark his joie de vivre, coupled with his illness and death, has left on my parenthood.  About which, some here, and here.

At some level this whole blog is a paean to him insofar as it is an extended sign of my attempt to live my life and my parenthood with eyes and heart as wide open as possible, and to grab as many people by the lapels as I can, and urge them to do the same.   For this enduring parting gift, my gratitude to him continues to be oceanic.]

“When Death Comes”
by Mary Oliver
from New and Selected Poems

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse
to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measles-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it is over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

7 thoughts on “Five years”

  1. I don’t know how one ever reconciles the death of a child. Is it possible? I fear the pain would be so enormous that it would forever and ever cast a shadow on the rest of my days.

    I love the poem you chose to pay homage to Erik on this day. It’s beautiful.

    • From this vantage point, I’d say the answer to your question is: No. No reconciling. Accepting, eventually maybe, because we are powerless about so much. Though with difficulty and only over much time. And yes, definitely: a shadow on the rest of the days. But the shadow is in the shape of his body, you see, and his spirit, so hand in hand with the sorrow comes the opportunity also to remember. For me, it’s a double remembering– first, of my nephew, and second, of the imperative never to take a minute with my children for granted. Since that time is not granted, but borrowed.

  2. I’ve been watching this day approach on my calendar – a big virtual hug to you and yours today, my friend (and a real one soon).

    In the frontispiece of your Mary Oliver book “Thirst” (don’t look for it – I borrowed it from you!), a reviewer says Mary Oliver “… strives to experience sorrow as a path to spiritual progress, grief as part of loving and not its end.”

    [emphasis mine]

    Its one thing to read it in a poem, and another thing entirely to watch you and your beloved actually do it in the world every single day. Thank you for showing me how, with such grace and generosity.

    • Same back at you, old friend. One person should not have the breathtaking opportunities you’ve had to practice this, but there you go. You have and are rising to meet it in ways that inspire me just as much.

      George Saunders, in eulogizing David Foster Wallace, said (among many other moving things):

      Grief is, in a sense, the bill that comes due for love. The sadness in this room amounts to a kind of proof: proof of the power of Dave’s work; proof of the softening effect his tenderness of spirit had on us; proof, in a larger sense, of the power of the Word itself. Look at how this man got inside the world’s mind and changed it for the better. Our sadness is proof of the power of a single original human consciousness.

      Reprinted in the January 2009 Harper’s. I’d say this works for all of us and those we love, famous or no, old or young.

  3. Two years ago, I read that tribute to your nephew and commented for the first time. We have “known” each other a long time; perhaps we are officially old friends. In this weird, twisted, tumbly way.

    Your parenting will affect my parenting–you make me excited to savor it one day. To love as completely as you do yours.

    I am no longer even living in Kentucky so my user name seems ironic now. And I am no longer down the street from my nephew. After his first two years spent with my almost daily presence, I find myself longing for that smile, laugh and even how he cried. The level of love I have for him, and the rest of my neices and nephews, makes me painfully aware of this day for you and what it must feel like.

    I have no words of wisdom; only to say hello, just like I did those years ago, and I am here and I am still listening.

  4. I don’t what what words to say here, other than to say I am here, reading with tears in my eyes, and grateful to you that you share your love of your nephew with all the rest of us.

  5. LD, I have lurked for a while and am moved to write today. I send you my deepest condolences and wishes for comfort and connection at this anniversary. I find that often these deep griefs reside in a wordless place and it is poetry — particularly Ms. Oliver’s — that comes as close as anything can.

    A wise woman once told me that our griefs never get any smaller, but that our lives grow larger. Thank you for sharing the growing-larger of life with us.

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