Saturday, November 17, 2007

On Finishing

Has anyone ever died in your life? I hope not, but probably so.

Her final summer was it
And yet we guessed it not
If tender industriousness
Pervaded her, we thought

A further force of life
Developed from within,--
When Death lit all the shortness up,
And made the hurry plain.

We wondered at our blindness,--
When nothing was to see
But her Carrara [marble quarry in Italy] guide post,--
At our stupidity,

When, duller than our dulness,
The busy darling lay,
So busy was she finishing,
So leisurely were we!

I remember going with a friend, not so long ago, to see her friend die. As he lay in cancerous agony in a hospital bed, with some remote relatives in the room, we came in. He knew who my friend was, and was glad to see her. She had come a long way to see him.

I stayed in the background. My Dad, and then my Mom, had died of wasting, lingering illnesses and I think I knew that people who are departing are working at leaving, but they want to leave at the exact right moment. They want to leave on their own terms. I think this is hard to do.

Somehow a political squabble developed in that hospital room. Those remote relatives weren't liberal enough or something, and ever more fervent messages, couched in subtleties, started getting passed back and forth by strangers. I looked at the agonized man. His eyes were closed tightly as the retorts gained quiet stridency.

Suddenly he sat up! Get out! Get out! he commanded. Then he sank back into his hospital bed. We all left in hushed reverie. He died a day later, with no one there. This has always bothered me. Some succor!

So busy was she finishing,
So leisurely were we!

The poet is Emily Dickinson.


jeanne said...

powerful post, peter.

Sunshine said...

Thank you.
Your story and the poetry in fugue.. along with profound timing: just before the family time of Thanksgiving.
Much to ponder.

Oh, and yes, we remember Chicago!

ShirleyPerly said...

Very thoughtful post. My dad died of cancer many years ago. One of the many reasons why I try to do as much as I can while I still can, to include doing what I've never done before ... hosting Thanksgiving at my house this year.

Hope you have a good Thanksgiving!

BreeWee said...

Wow! pretty deep stuff, also really personal...Thanks for the reminder to live life to the fullest

David said...

Dickinson had the feel for it alright.

Having been through it recently myself, it seemed that, until it's clearly end-game time, the time in presence of the departing should be two-fold: mainstream life-is-normal-newsy exchanges and memorial moments of reflection on our common past. The former breathes life into living for another day of news. The latter gives comfort and closing credits where they are due.

jeanne said...

you might be interested in a new blog, dedicated to telling bloggers' cancer stories, and dedicated to raising money to fight cancer, here:

set up by our own Bolder in Boulder.

A very noble cause.

CewTwo said...

Sad story. My Mother, when she died, definitely knew that it was coming. I was always light hearted around her, telling jokes to help her love life. She told me when I arrived at her death bed that she would tell me when the jokes should stop. It was rough for her. Her lungs would fill repeatedly with fluid. The hospital staff would come and assist.
Finally, one afternoon she looked into my eyes, held my hand and told me that the jokes should stop.
Both of our eyes welled with tears. We held each other for a long time. She died that next day in the wee hours of the morning. Cancer was not treated so well in '87. She died of lymphomatic cancer, but her body was covered with the sores of skin cancer that resulted from the radiation. She was content when she left us.

My Father died of COPD. It was not as dranatic, except he knew that the end was near. He was tired. I was not there but arrived soon after. It was the last time that all of the children in the family were all together at once.

Thanks for sharing Peter! It brought back some wonderful, if sad, memories.

These are necessary things that happen to each of us. The death of a loved one or friend is as necessary as sharing their life with them!