By November 1st even the birches in the front yard had lost all their leaves and the world outside my window appeared to be dead. I watched a small flock of robins perched in another tree, a species of wild cherry. They were picking off fruit, fueling up for the flight south. “You’re late,” I thought, “better hurry or you’ll freeze.”
What did our early ancestors think the first time they observed the onset of winter, the apparent death of the world? When did they realize it was part of a cycle of loss and renewal?
Death, which still seems the ultimate loss, was much on my mind that day. We were getting ready to sing a trio of songs about it for a chapel service commemorating the day of the dead. Oliver had prepared a short speech to describe the songs. The first “Absalom, My Son” was about the tragedy of early death; the second “Thou Knowest Lord the Secrets of Our Hearts” was a meditation on the fear of death; and the third “Never Weather Beaten Sail” was about death as a welcome event when a life has run its full course.
I was hoping my next blog post would be a little more cheerful than some of my more recent ones. Due to my complete inability to leave my office long enough to go to the grocery store, we recently suffered through a whole week of drinking Maxwell House coffee, the only brand at a nearby convenience store. I had some amusing thoughts about that, coffee snob that I am. But recently I’ve had news of three deaths and I’m bewildered by the piling up of loss upon loss.
Strictly speaking the passing of these three people is not my loss. The first was the son of a couple I once knew quite well but with whom I have fallen out of touch. I never met the son but I feel sorrow for my friends, especially in circumstances as tragic as these were.
The other two deaths are closer to home and yet it seems a little presumptuous to claim them as my loss. My ex-husband called a little over a week ago to tell me that his mother had died suddenly, heart failure. She was a good woman. My principal memory of her is she loved a good laugh. I remember long evenings at her dinner table with much good food and laughter.
I was sad to hear the news, sad for my ex to have lost her. We have had a long association and have remained friends. Throughout our marriage and divorce, his family treated me with love and kindness. My former father-in-law, Bob, was also much in my mind. He and Pat were childhood friends and had been together all their lives.
Then yesterday morning my ex called again with the news that Bob had died. He didn’t give me any more information than that but I wonder if the cause was a broken heart.
The passing of Pat and Bob doesn’t fit any of the songs we sang at that service. They were not young, except at heart where it really counts. Neither of them were fearful people and they were yet too young for their death to be a comfort to them or to anyone who loves them. I will mourn them whether I have a right to it or not.