Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Is There No Death?

In response to April and the flowers blooming, Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote, “It is apparent that there is no death.” She’s being tongue-in-cheek, of course, because she lived by the ocean where the dead bodies of sea life constantly washed up on shore.

She is addressing how the blooming of flowers temporarily make us set aside all the deaths that have happened as if they no longer mattered because the green fuse of life goes on. Edna concludes that this isn’t what’s important, because she goes on to write “under ground are the brains of men / Eaten by maggots.” and “Life in itself / Is nothing.” There is more to life than eating, breathing and sleeping.

What she means is people. Connecting with them. Loving them. And when they die, mourning them and mourning what their deaths take away from us.

Her poem is in contrast to Wang Wei’s poem, “Magnolia Basin.” In it he writes of hibiscus blooming on a remote mountain hillside where no one will see them — “One by one flowers open, then fall.” He seems to be saying that life blooms whether anyone notices, then is gone, without fanfare or anguish. His poem affirms the natural course of life. Yet Wei’s hibiscus will have flowers next year. Ev won’t.

Wei’s poem says that nothing lasts, good or bad, because life moves like a river, constantly traveling somewhere. A glorious sunset always fades to black over the ocean.

It’s a philosophical worldview, one that is detached from the flow of emotions. In real life, each moment does exist in its own beauty, but we humans also connect it to what came before and what will come next.

I always feel sadness for the sunset that has ended. I suppose I should be excited about the new beauty that is coming, like tonight’s moon, or the new people I will meet tomorrow. I am, but I also become attached to the beauty and the people I know, and I do not want to let them go.

It took a long time to find the people I wanted to love. To say that their deaths don’t matter is to deem that the love for them that surges through my heart is transitory. If that is the case, then everything I value is mist, and life does become Edna’s nothing.

Spring is not an either/or situation.

Evelyn planted purple iris the year before she died. They bloomed again on the first anniversary of her death. They were beautiful, and I felt joy. I also felt grief. Can I feel two different emotions at the same time? If a wren flies up and sings at my window, I should be able to delight in it, no matter what else is going on.

Affirming death increases my passion for life.

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