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.
But 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…
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
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.