Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her book “Death and Dying” defines for us the stages of bereavement that we’re supposed to go through when we lose a loved one. Many of you know these stages already: denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance. If you stand just outside that inner circle of pain, you can often see those inside the circle as they move through these phases. There’s no set order to them. There’s no time limit for how long they will visit. There’s no calibration about the intensity they will inflict.
As artists, we hope that the circumstances surrounding death will reach a tidal wave of poetic outpouring that will help us push through the angst of the loss. I always think back to the funeral in “Four Weddings and a Funeral”, when Gareth, the older indefatigable wit, dies suddenly at a wedding. His love, Matthew, reads this bit of brilliance from W.H. Auden:
“Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.”
Of course, for most of us, this doesn’t happen. Few of us know anyone as resonant in emotion as Auden. Most of the sentiments are prosaic, well-intentioned, but usual. Each of us has been in attendance when someone says, “If any of you has a remembrance you’d like to share about so-and-so, please do so now.” It always goes on too long, becomes tiring, and sometimes slips sadly into bathos.
Norman passed this last week. On his headstone, they will inscribe “He never met a stranger”. Norman loved to talk with people about where their lives might touch. Norman was glad to be amongst people. I heard him mostly brag about his daughter, and when the listener might have tired of that, he always had his granddaughter’s achievements for the second round.
I’m only like Norman in a couple of ways. We both love his daughter. We both love golf, although his love of the game was more unadulterated than mine. If you don’t play golf often, you get really bad. Norman played often and never got good, so I find his affection more pure than mine. Norman was frugal as were most children of the Depression. I wish I were more so. I am not a person comfortable with talking to strangers. I envied him that.
Norman grew weary near the end, as I suppose many do who have lived a long and rich life. In the end, he got to go home. He got the touch his daughter’s face. And, as Shakespeare said then,
“and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”
Sleep well Norman.