Not The Kurds After All

Today was going to be a long post on the travails of the Kurds. I’ve been doing some research (and find Turkey more perfidious than I’d thought already), looking at Kurdish sites – the English versions, anyway – and just generally immersing myself in the current situation. We’ve even blogrolled a Kurdish American site.

ShelaghBut today is May 8th, the third anniversary of my daughter’s death. However I try, I cannot wrap my mind around an ongoing genocidal tragedy when faced with the loss of one of my children. We humans are hard-wired that way or we wouldn’t be here, would we?

For those who know the story, told partially here, you are aware that Shelagh has lain these three years with no gravestone to mark her passing. This has been the source of a grievous sorrow.

I am told by someone who has seen it that her tombstone has finally been allowed to be erected. The reality brings both a sense of relief and a final sorrow. I think I understand how they could let her lie in anonymity these past three years, but it has been the source of much pain nonetheless.

And now she lies in a grave in a shady glen, her visit on this plane marked forcefully, finally, in granite. Today I go to see her grave for the first time in three years: I could never bring myself to go and look before this, to see the blank green sward, a place you could walk across without noticing anything.

The cemetery is a pretty place. Privately owned and maintained, I have always been drawn to it. Back when the Baron had the time and space to paint, he did a landscape there, a beautifully rendered maple in all its Autumn colors. The piece sold almost immediately and now I wish I remembered to whom. Would it be tacky to beg for it back, do you think?

Owning a painting or photograph of a graveyard is a good thing: it reminds you of what awaits you and all you love. If you don’t have a memento mori, I recommend acquiring something which evokes for you the final ending for us all. It is a movement toward wisdom when you can look with equanimity on what is to come.

The death of children, as painful as it is, makes the prospect of one’s own mortality less terrifying. We want to go before them; that is the normal order of things. But once they are gone, our own hold on life becomes a bit more tenuous; a little less tightly clung to. Shelagh was terrified of dying but now that river has been crossed and all her other terrors are at an end, too. This knowledge brings a perverse comfort sometimes. No one can hurt her anymore.

Lily-of-the-valley was her favorite fragrance and roses her favorite flower. So I am bringing both to leave with her. The lily is almost finished flowering, but the rose bush someone gave me when she died is blooming now for the first time this year.

Perhaps by her fifth anniversary, I will have finished her memorial garden. A small space under the dogwood tree with a bench, some moss underfoot, and slate stepping stones taken from the first hospital she went to for relief from her suffering, and the one that turned out to be the most kind to her.

They are tearing the old building down now; in the end, everything goes.

I leave you again with the poem she seems to have written to us on the day of her death. It came to the author in a piece, as he was driving to pick up her brother and break the news…

Remembering Shelagh

Of the many who knew the many of you
there were few enough who knew you well,
and of the stories that are ours to tell,
a myriad versions, and all of them true:

A gutsiness of life and love,
an eyebrow arched, a toss of the hair,
the level gaze and the withering stare,
a fist of iron in a velvet glove.

Mother and daughter, sister and friend:
how shall we cope with your laughter gone?
Too lately begun to have reached this end,
a spring afternoon on a shaded lawn.
Accept if you will this bitter rhyme,
and be with us here this one last time.

May 8, 2003
E.S. May

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

We deal with loss, especially the deaths of our beloveds, incrementally. But that is not how chldren come to us. They arrive in one swooshing, sluicing suddeness.

Here is the poem I wrote about six months after her death. It was the beginning of acceptance of the inevitable:


When I am forced to hold this leaden globe
—Heavy and opaque and unwelcome—
I have to use both hands to grasp it fully
I have to sit down to encompass its enormity
On my lap. Even now someone lurks
in the nearest shadow waiting to thrust it at me
As I sink into the nearest chair.

Into the thin light of that irretrievable March morning
You arrived in a rush, as afterwards, you were always to do.
When they thrust you into my arms,
I was astonished most by the pink weight of you.
Fanning out the clutch of one tiny damp hand
I said “how can such a small being weigh an eternity?”
Your remarkable black lashes blinked back at me.

Now there is only left to sit, weighted by this grey globe.
When I lean over awkwardly so my ear can rest
Against its uncomforting, rounded mass
I am hoping to hear within your faint laugh,
or the far-off scree of gulls.
But there is only this: the rise and fall of waves
Breaking against the listless shore; then as they recede,
The skitter of ghost crabs in the whispery sand.

December 14, 2003

Requiescat in Pace, Shelagh Marie. May angels be your friends.

13 thoughts on “Not The Kurds After All

  1. Oh Dymphna, I hope time brings you comfort. I’m so glad you are able to visit her grave now. It’s a small thing, but it’s something.

    I thought perhaps you might like to look at this, which I posted last Mother’s Day. It contains a Jarrell poem about motherhood, written in the voice of a mother who has one living daughter and one who died.

  2. I’m so sorry Dymphna.

    It never heals, does it? All time does is teach us how to turn it off and make it more bearable, as I know only too well.

    My condolances, m’dear, for what they’re worth.

  3. Thanks for sharing that, Dymphna. Those of us who konw you and knew Shelagh know your feelings are too deep for words, but you and the Baron (and that E.S. May character) always find the right words, anyway.

    God bless you –


  4. This Flower, whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air,

    Dispels with glorious splendor the darkness everywhere . . .

  5. tv preachers have such a bad reputation…. but…. Perry Stone has recently interviewed several people who have lost children. He allows the emotions, and openly discussed their visions of heaven, and seeing their children who have passed on. We must honor these emotions… and the religion of our heritage… Christianity.

  6. What did Hafiz say dear Dymphna?

    Death would be fearsome, if only there was such a thing.

    Bodies pass, souls remain, I think that’s what he was saying.

    I’m very sorry for your loss. I had a brother that passed away a bit longer than that, and his grave was also unmarked. We did it out of Islam. We are not to mark our graves for we we come from dust and return to dust.

    The earth retakes what’s hers; God, what’s his; and we hold onto that which makes us human: laughter.

  7. I’ve sat here for about an hour trying to think of something profound to say. Never really works that way, does it?

    Did Shelagh like singing? I only ask because I lost an aunt recently who was, by all accounts, a remarkable singer. I never got to know her, but I like to think she’s up there right now singing her heart out. I imagine the complete and absolute joy they must be feeling…

  8. This post and the one you linked are two of the deepest and most painful things I’ve ever found beautiful. Thank you for sharing with us.

    My daughter is just five months old but sometimes I am gripped by terror that something will hurt or God forbid take her from my wife and me. I’m not sure I could survive that (just thinking about it turns me into a blubbering mess), but it’s comforting to know that others have. God bless you and Shelagh, and may he/she/it give you strength in times of need.

    And thank you for your work at Gates of Vienna. You’re doing the world a solid here and I very much appreciate your efforts.

  9. Thanks, everyone–

    Neo for the link

    Reliapundit — you spoke more truly than you know: we do leave the dead behind us. That is a sad, but necessary fact.

    ljm– I will look at Mr. Stone

    eteraz– Hafiz can cure any heart. But I didn’t know Muslims didn’t mark graves. I saw some photos of marked graves in Tehran years ago. But maybe that’s a Persian hangover? On Ash Wednesday, the priest marks the believer’s forehead with ashes (made from the palms from the previous Palm Sunday) and says “remember thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return.”

    Archonix– she loved music and had perfect pitch, but her brother is the song writer/performer. She was his surest critic and could tell him when he veered off. One of his most popular songs she called “a failure of nerve.” It is, to me, a perfect example of the Americana/country genre. She said he never went into the depth of what he’d set out to write, even though it’s his most requested song…uncanny aesthetic sense she had.

    A friend of mine is having a Mass said for her. By coincidence, they chose the day of her burial — May 13th. And the singer will be my 8th grade teacher, so it has lots of connections for me. I asked Sister Marie Therese to do “How Can I Keep From Singing?” and “Panis Angelicus.” At her funeral, her brother played “Broken Alleluia” — that’s probably not the right name. But she did love that song…

    Uncle Mikey —

    They didn’t tell you, did they? When you have a child, from then on your heart resides outside your body. ‘Twas ever so….

    Wally B–

    You knew her, warts and all. It seemed like every time we saw y’all back in those days she was in some crisis. I kept waiting for her to grow up, but she couldn’t. Thank you for commenting.

    Even now, she is teaching me to love and let go, to surrender judgements. She loved more deeply and surely than I ever could. It’s something to be the kind of person, who, when she walked into the room, it seemed lighter somehow. I think that is what her children miss the most.

    You guys will probably see some version of this remembrance every year.

    NOTE: I went to see her headstone yesterday, finally in place. They did a lovely job. Hummingbirds and lily of the valley carved at the top. It will always be a bit of a shudder to see her birth and death dates filled in…always.

    Gratias plena, all…as Hafiz said:

    The heart is right to cry
    Even when the smallest drop of light,
    Of love,
    Is taken away…

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