The Ground Has Been Closed

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.

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

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.

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

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:

There is a Midnight

There is a midnight waiting
For all of us. A particular one,
That if we knew, we could put
On our tombstones now.
It will be labelled our last day,
But not by us. We will not
Be there to mark its going.

Many people die at 3:00 a.m.,
Exhausted at the prospect
Of yet one more passage
To be gotten through.
My mother did this. She died
At 3:24 of a fine May morning;
Having gone to East Three
To celebrate my birthday,
She was probed and prodded
Into her mortality.

It was sudden, her flight from us.
The doctor had told her she could
Go home. Perhaps she misunderstood
Where home was. Or really did know.
It is like that with the very old.
They listen between the lines
And do as they please.

She was a woman of formidable intellect. I shall grieve for her for the rest of my life, but I know she is at last without pain.

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

Below is an excerpt from a poem I wrote more than a decade ago, concerning the death of a close friend. It was the first death within my cohort, and it hit me hard.

It’s equally appropriate this week, because there was a stiff wind blowing yesterday afternoon during the Committal, in advance of an approaching rainstorm. Fortunately the rain held off until after the ground was closed and we were back in the parish hall for the reception.

The ground has been closed now, and there you lie,
breathing the sod from underneath,
while above you grass blades bend in the teeth
of a stiff wind, with a few leaves flickering by.

The ground has been closed; the world waits for the sun.
Some have tomorrows. Some must wake
and roll away the stone. It is for their sake
the verses continue, the song not quite done.

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

I’m not yet ready to resume normal posting here, but I’ll try to compile a news feed for tonight (using the tips from last Sunday/Monday), and also on subsequent nights. Tipsters are invited to begin sending in their news feed tips again.

I’ll use the next couple of days to start catching up on the huge backlog of emails that has accumulated all week.

One final note: I left this note in a comment on the previous post, but I’ll reiterate it here.

I saw the decision to set up a gofundme initiative for the funeral expenses, and I deeply appreciate the effort. I don’t object to it, but if anyone is concerned about its being a scam, don’t donate to it.

Here’s what I’ll do: any money sent to me (by whatever means) that is earmarked for funeral expenses, will be applied towards them. If donations exceed my expenditures, I’ll donate the difference to a reputable local charity (already chosen) that helps the victims of sexual abuse and exploitation, especially children. Those of you who have followed Dymphna’s writings over the past fifteen years will understand why we (her sons and I) chose this charity.

Once again, if you are uncomfortable or suspicious about any of this, please don’t donate. You needn’t worry: we had set aside money for this contingency, and can cover the funeral costs.

52 thoughts on “The Ground Has Been Closed

  1. Now you have awoken to a tomorrow
    that someday I hope to share.
    So instead of continued sorrow
    I will hope to join you there.

    Our day will then be everlasting,
    in our love and with our friends,
    at the banquet table with our Lord and King
    a holy fellowship that will never end.

    very respectfully

  2. I was on this forum not so long ago, but on separate notes I concluded that Dymphna suffered a lot of suffering and fate was not always favorable to her. And at the same time she preserved and developed amazing kindness and compassion. Yes, she was a wonderful woman in all respects.
    This is a great rarity and an honor to meet such a person.

  3. My heart goes out to you. God blessed you in your relationship. You will see her again. Surely she is now home with our Lord.

  4. Thanks for sharing a bit more about Dymphna’s life.
    She and together with everyone at GoV had done a great job to us readers who may be looking for similar perspectives that may help us to cope better in these challenging times.
    May she Rest in Peace forever.

  5. dear Baron,
    please allow me to insert the final verse of a poem by Antonio Machado , Retrato, that a childhood friend of mine who passed last year chose as a eulogy when we were still young. He was a most dedicated fighter of our common cause. (Translation by Robert Bly.)

    and when the day arrives for the last leaving of all,
    and the ship that never returns to port is ready to go,
    you’ll find me on board, light, with few belongings,
    almost naked like the children of the sea

    • Thank you, Herb.

      Another appropriate poem for the occasion is “Crossing the Bar” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson:

      Sunset and evening star,
      And one clear call for me!
      And may there be no moaning of the bar,
      When I put out to sea,

      But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
      Too full for sound and foam,
      When that which drew from out the boundless deep
      Turns again home.

      Twilight and evening bell,
      And after that the dark!
      And may there be no sadness of farewell,
      When I embark;

      For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
      The flood may bear me far,
      I hope to see my Pilot face to face
      When I have crost the bar.

      • Absolutely perfect. I sent that one to the family of an old friend and school-mate who died in 2015. They really appreciated it. When my time comes, (I’m 84), I hope my family will use it also.

  6. You two were very lucky, Baron… a meeting of minds, a long happy marriage; such rare blessings. This morning, I am crying for the loss, and sending blessings to both of you.

    Tell her anyway. 🙂

  7. Thank you for this inspiring summary of your lives. Having lost two adult children I understand the devastation of grief. Take your time and know that God’s compassion is infinitely greater than all our griefs put together.

    Thank you for continuing this invaluable website.

  8. Dear Baron,

    Again, please accept my deepest condolences and sympathy for your (our) loss. Dymphna was an amazing intellect and a wonderful writer as I discovered during the time I have been reading and commenting on GoV.

    Thank you for sharing so many details about your life together and your family. It is very much appreciated by this loyal reader.

    Thanks also for everything that you continue to do as we wage this relentless battle against the forces of Darkness and Evil.

    Most Sincerely,

    Seneca

  9. A fine eulogy for a very fine woman of exceptional qualities, and a glimpse into lives dovetailed and richly shared.
    God bless you and your family.

  10. Dear Baron
    You have never met us face to face
    But we all feel that we know YOU
    There are thousands and thousands of us
    And we all need YOU
    To keep going
    Every day I come around your isolatede spot of sanity
    Hoping for a miracle
    I pray for you , and for myself

  11. OMG ! I am so sorry for your loss! I didn’t even know she was sick, and I have followed this blog off and on for at least 12 years. She was a good person and we will miss her.

  12. 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.

    Dear Baron, at the risk of being oppositionally defiant—or whatever they call being an alpha male these days—Dymphna DID “make it to [y]our fortieth wedding anniversary.”

    After all the emails we’ve shared, if I know anything, it’s positive the two of you felt about each other the same way I felt about the woman I lived with.

    We were married from the moment we met and didn’t “need no piece of paper from the city hall”. I cannot help but think that you both felt the same way. If forty years of devotion doesn’t prove that, nothing will.

    Your picture of Dymphna puts the lie to that old wisecrack:

    “Got a puppy for my wife … best trade I ever made.

    Looks to me like you got a wife and the puppy. Most men could do, and have done, a lot worse.

    Stay strong,

    NorseRadish

  13. Suffice, I share in each of these expressions of love and admiration, of you both. Thanks, Baron, for all you, and Dymphna’s being here.

  14. My wife of 25 years died 15 months ago after 12 years battling a rare form of bone/blood cancer. Like Dymphna, she was a learned, intelligent, kind woman who, among other subjects, loved poetry. Like you and Dymphna, we had many common and many complementary interests. Like Dymphna, she was a devout Episcopalian. Like Dymphna, her death came as a surprise, because she had been on-track for a bone-marrow transplant. So I believe I know the pain you’re feeling now. It doesn’t ever go away, nor should it. Neither should all the memories. If I may be so bold, because I’ve visited this site almost daily for years, I believe you’ll have the strength to carry on. With God’s Grace. FWIW, my thoughts and prayers are w/you.

  15. The Baron said:

    “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.”

    Sure she is and rest assured you will be heard.

    Again, I am sorry for the loss of Dymphna. She was unique.

  16. Dear Baron, I have been away for some time and return to this sad news. . . I did so much enjoy her “begging” stories. Some quite touching. Artful lessons in living really. Please accept my deeply felt condolences for your loss. . I note that Alfred Lord Tennyson was the husband of Sir John Franklin’s neice who wrote the memorial plaque for Sir John –
    Not here: the white north has thy bones; and thou,
    Heroic sailor soul,
    Art passing on thine happier voyage now,
    Toward no earthly pole.
    I too beleive her voyage now will be a happy one.

  17. To all……

    At times like these I am reminded of a quote from one of my very favorite poems, the poem “Morte D’Arthur” by the Victorian Poet Laureate, Alfred Lord Tennyson…….

    King Arthur has been mortally wounded and lays dying, the last of the Knights of the Round Table is wracked with grief as his king lays dying……and they say to each other….

    …..” Then loudly cried the bold Sir Bedivere:
    “Ah! my Lord Arthur, whither shall I go?
    Where shall I hide my forehead and my eyes?
    For now I see the true old times are dead,
    When every morning brought a noble chance,
    And every chance brought out a noble knight.
    Such times have been not since the light that led
    The holy Elders with the gift of myrrh.
    But now the whole ROUND TABLE is dissolved
    Which was an image of the mighty world;
    And I, the last, go forth companionless,
    And the days darken round me, and the years,
    Among new men, strange faces, other minds.”

    And slowly answer’d Arthur from the barge:
    “The old order changeth, yielding place to new,
    And God fulfils Himself in many ways,
    Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.
    Comfort thyself: what comfort is in me?
    I have lived my life, and that which I have done
    May He within Himself make pure! but thou,
    If thou shouldst never see my face again,
    Pray for my soul. More things are wrought by prayer
    Than this world dreams of. Wherefore, let thy voice
    Rise like a fountain for me night and day.
    For what are men better than sheep or goats
    That nourish a blind life within the brain,
    If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer
    Both for themselves and those who call them friend?
    For so the whole round earth is every way
    Bound by gold chains about the feet of God.
    But now farewell. I am going a long way”………

    -Excerpt, Morte D’Arthur, Alfred Lord Tennyson

    Take care of yourself Baron, pour a good measure of brandy and know that she stands right behind you.

    God Bless and Godspeed Baron,

    Regards, DL
    Alberta, Canada

  18. Very sweet photograph. She looks exactly as I imagined her.

    Her power to inspire others is not gone. She has given a gift that stays here.

    It is good to read your story together. Thank you.

    The reference in the poem excerpt to rolling away the stone reminded me of one of the most beautiful stories of love and loss I know – Kipling’s “The Gardener”.

    http://www.telelib.com/authors/K/KiplingRudyard/prose/DebtsandCredits/gardener.html

    One grave to me was given,
    One watch till Judgement Day;
    And God looked down from Heaven
    And rolled the stone away.

    One day in all the years,
    One hour in that one day,
    His Angel saw my tears,
    And rolled the stone away!

    . . .

    Until then – to continue singing, for her sake: what better gift could you give her? It is one of the deepest expressions of love.

    God bless.

  19. Sadness and condolences . I will miss her too, and very much so . Loved her wit and honesty , her dedication to get the message out , her commitment to the cause , the bright spark she was .

  20. My deepest condolences again. It’s a delight though to see the lady herself, and I’ll be keeping this post with the photo.

  21. Dear Baron,

    If sharing a sorrow halves the burden, then please allow me to double down on a bit of joy with this shared memory. Having gladly toiled beneath her editorial lash: I can think of no better place to share this moment’s fleeting realization that:

    Dymphna’s incredibly rare superalloy of Justice and Mercy wrought a balance at GoV which would elicit admiration even from the sternest of Jewish cabalists.

  22. Dear Baron,

    I will miss her. And I will wish her well although I know she has people praying for her and doesn’t need my good wishes, but I will pray for her. I want to thank you for continuing this site.

    Very Best Regards,

    Independent

  23. My deepest condolences to you and your family. I read this blog for many, many years, and I feel your pain. May God give you some measure of peace.

  24. Wonderful post. So glad you are back — though it will be a long time before you are recovered — if ever. Dymphna was a blessing. Take care.

  25. I’m very saddened to hear of your loss. Observing the interactions between Dymphna and others over the years, it feels like this is a loss for others too.

    I can’t find the link for the gofundme page. Please could you post it again.

  26. With the opening of the door on a new life is the necessary knowledge that, some day, that door will close. What matters is the work we do between those two events.

    For years I’ve read your site and, as I said in my comment about it on my blog, your site was instrumental in my coming to understand the civilizational war we’re in.

    The work you and she did was stellar and seminal.

  27. You had a wonderful and edifying time with your wife. She’ll always be your wife, and you will meet again. On the odd chance that she is listening, might I recommend reading your writings to her?

  28. Baron B — I am very sorry to learn about your loss. You and Dymphna were an extraordinary team, as evidenced by hundreds of pages of beautifully written posts here at Gates of Vienna. Please accept my sincere condolences.

  29. Of all of the things that Dymphna wrote about here, the one that made the most lasting impression on me was her story about Saint Dymphna, the patron saint of the mentally ill. Long ago and far away, I was raised Roman Catholic and educated by the Sisters of Notre Dame. The nuns regularly read aloud from a book about the lives of the saints, but I had never heard of Saint Dymphna until I read about her here (https://gatesofvienna.net/2019/05/an-old-tale-for-the-feast-of-saint-dymphna). I eventually found my vocation as a clinical psychologist, and it gladdens my heart to know that there is someone “upstairs” looking out for my clients.

  30. Dear Baron,
    My condolences. These are very sad news. Dymphna will be missed by a great many people who have benefited from her writing at Gates of Vienna.

  31. Dymphna was a true ‘salt of the Earth’, balanced, Conservative woman of faith.

    This seems to be a rare type of woman these days.

    I hope and pray that my daughter continues to live her life, to the very end, sacrificing and fighting for what is good and right

    – just as Dymphna had done.

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