Monday, April 13, 2009

Life's Not a Paragraph

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who have already experienced profound loss and those who will.

I've been lucky so far in this life. My losses have been quiet goodbyes, gentle by most standards, the soft leavings of old age, cushioned by the generations between them and me. Secondhand losses. 

After my grandfather died, and my grandmother was diagnosed with cancer, I asked her if she was afraid of death. "Oh, honey," she said. "At my age, death is almost a friend. It's a story I read about every day in the paper."

Death is not always a friend — sometimes it is a thief, robbing us of our dearest treasures. 

Earlier this month, I wrote about my greatest fear — a recurring nightmare I have that one of my children has died. I knew even as I wrote it that I was trampling on someone else's grief. Tragically, unbelievably, one of my fellow bloggers from the Silicon Valley Moms Group is living this nightmare right now, having lost her baby just two days after I posted my nightmares.

(November 11, 2007 - April 7, 2009)

I've never met Maddie's family, but so much of her story is familiar — difficult conception and pregnancy, traumatic, premature birth, eating issues, growing issues — but more importantly:

first teeth, 
first baths,

Her story may not be a long one, but it is a story worth knowing.

This loss, like so many others, was not a quiet one. When a child dies, we roar with the pain, the grief, the missed opportunities of a story barely started. 

A writing friend, Cindy Fey, wrote beautifully about the sudden loss of her dear friend, a peer, a cohort, a man who was walking this life at the same time as her husband when his footsteps suddenly stopped. His premature death left a novella, not a full novel perhaps, but a story worth knowing. 

Death is not always a friend — sometimes it is the harshest of spotlights, the cruelest of mirrors, shining stark light on our own mortality, leaving us gasping and keening.

Another dear friend has experienced more deaths in her family than anyone I know, whittling her immediate family down to a precious few, leaving her clear-eyed and unsentimental. Her losses are a series of short-stories and tall tales, an epic saga — a story worth knowing.

Death is not always a friend — sometimes it's a relentless clock, ticking off the lives of those we know and love as surely as it counts off the seconds of our individual lives — a never-ending death knell.

I know I am lucky — death has brushed by so closely that the hairs on the back of my neck still rise and tremble at the memory. In grateful acknowledgement of those near misses, in tribute to Maddie and Eric and Jill's family, and in celebration of April as National Poetry Month, let's remember that no life is just a paragraph, but a full story worth telling:

since feeling is first

since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you;

wholly to be a fool
while Spring is in the world

my blood approves,
and kisses are a better fate
than wisdom
lady i swear by all the flowers. Don't cry
- the best gesture of my brain is less than
your eyelids' flutter which says

we are for each other: then
laugh, leaning back in my arms
for life's not a paragraph

and death i think is no parenthesis

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Unknown said...

That was lovely, Susan!

I recently sat in on a Palliative Care meeting at this Children's Hospital, and it was sobering, indeed.


Unknown said...

Susan--what a lovely, graceful piece, and a way to give something memorable to your grieving friends. Thank you for keeping me on your list. My best to you, your husband and the kids, and of course your extended family.

Mel said...

I'm the kind who has yet to experience the profound sadness of death. I have also been lucky (if I can describe it that way) in my experience with death. I cannot even fathom what the Sphors are feeling. This is a beautiful piece, thank you for sharing!!

anne said...

Great post! Grief is one of the most overwhelming emotions we experience in this life - the direct opposite of love. Love is light; it lifts us up; it sustains us through hardship.

Grief is hardship. It is deadweight that drags us down. Like our fellow blogger, Cindy Fey, I lost both of my parents when I was very young. In the time of my grief, I felt like I was underwater - that above me was light and air, but I was struggling far below that space.

Over time, Iife lifted me to the surface. Today, as a mother, I am surrounded by light and air - (and bickering and sibling rivalry, but hey - life is life - I'll take all of it!)

I remember the darkness and I remember the pain of grief and it is a burden to know that it will be experienced again.

But grief taught me that this moment of now is to be held fast. And that laughter is one of the most nourishing things we experience in this life.

Thanks for this wonderful post.

Leightongirl said...

Beautiful poem. Death is no parenthesis, indeed. Thank you.