I buried my wife late yesterday afternoon in the graveyard of our little rural church in Central Virginia. The Episcopalian service was everything that one could have hoped for, and I know that Dymphna was pleased with the liturgy, the music, and the fellowship in the parish hall after the Committal.
A year or two ago, after a discussion about this eventuality, Dymphna gave her assent to the publication of the photo below. It was the only photo of her that she would allow to be posted. It was taken a number of years ago, in happier times.
Discussions about her eventual demise became more and more frequent in recent years, as her condition gradually worsened. She would tell me what she did and didn’t want for her funeral and so on, and I promised to honor her wishes. The most recent such conversation occurred last Thursday, when we were talking about Protestant hymns. Since she was raised a Catholic, she didn’t really know any Protestant hymns until she became an Episcopalian. I asked her which ones she liked. She named a few, and then said, “I really love ‘There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy’. I want that at my funeral.”
I honored her wish.
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Dymphna and I first met forty years ago last month. We had a small celebration for the occasion. Unfortunately, she didn’t make it to our fortieth wedding anniversary.
On our first date we went out to dinner to the Double T Diner in the southern suburbs of Baltimore. I was attracted to her for all the normal reasons, of course; but what really made us fall in love with each other was our intellectual compatibility. Her fields were theology, philosophy, psychology, literature, history, and poetry. Mine were mathematics, art, science, linguistics, literature, history, and poetry. So we had some overlap, but the territory where we had the greatest meeting of minds was in poetry. Both of us loved to read poetry, and both of us wrote it. Sitting there in that diner over dinner, I found out that she knew about Wallace Stevens — amazing! I had never met a woman who had read Wallace Stevens, never mind understood him. In the next few weeks she introduced me to poets I hadn’t read, and I did the same for her.
We were both head-over-heels. In due course she moved down here and we got married. Now that she is gone, I’m allowed to tell you that she was ten years older than I. We agreed that we were fortunate the difference was only ten years. Still, it was anxiety-inducing to contemplate the age gap. I remember thinking about it back in those early days, when I was so happy. I did the actuarial estimate in my head and said to myself, “Well, I think I can expect to get forty years.”
That’s what I got. And I’m so grateful for every one of them.
In the summer of 1979 I suddenly acquired three teenage stepchildren. That was a learning experience like no other, but I won’t go into any details here. Suffice it to say that the two surviving stepchildren were down here in the house all week, along with the future Baron. I can’t tell you how gratified it made me to have them all here.
The extent to which I will miss her is hard to describe. Any time I had some insight or question about current events, politics, history, religion, sociology, or any other general intellectual topic, I knew I could always count on her being interested and engaged in a discussion about it. The future Baron can tell you how interesting (and sometimes heated) our dinner-table conversations were.
That is what I will miss the most. During the past five days, when something important occurred, I found myself thinking, “I must tell her about this.” And then it hit me — the person to whom I could tell all the stories is no longer here.
It’s going to be a hard time for a while.
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Although her condition had been slowly deteriorating for fifteen years, Dymphna’s death was sudden. On Friday she was outside working on the flowerbeds. On Saturday the fever and cough came back. Early Sunday evening I had to take her to the emergency room, and she died just after midnight, before she was even admitted to the hospital. I was with her during her last moments.
Dymphna wrote the following poem in the mid-1990s, a few months after her mother died under similar circumstances. The month and time of day are slightly different, but in other respects the poem is exactly descriptive of last Monday’s events. Two of her sons read it out to the congregation during the eulogy portion of yesterday’s funeral: