Tuesday, December 31, 2013

For Whom Do We Cry When Death Comes?

Death is an eventuality for all of us and many will express how they would either like to die or to be remembered after their death. But when that moment comes for someone we love, for whom do we cry?

Do we cry for the deceased who will no longer be able to enjoy warm sunshine on their face, or the joy of dinners with friends and family or the flush of romance or of receiving gifts that amaze and embarrass? One has to wonder as William Faulkner did when he wrote that famous line of poetry that read, “...the reason for living was to get ready to stay dead a long time” in “As I Lay Dying.”

Wallace Stevens wrote about it in his famous poem “The Emperor of Ice Cream.” Although I enjoyed the concept of ice cream having an emperor, I never read it thoroughly and only appreciate its point as I began to look beneath the surface. It isn’t about ice cream or anyone who has majesty over it but the death of a woman as it reads:

“Take from the dresser of deal,

Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet
On which she embroidered fantails once

And spread it so as to cover her face.

If her horny feet protrude, they come

To show how cold she is, and dumb.

Let the lamp affix its beam.”\
Death is a serious matter and it is a topic that most of us avoid, if we can. But the question that must be raised is the one that asks for whom we grieve and cry when death comes stealthily through the door, unnoticed and silent and takes our loved ones on an unknown trip. Do we cry for them or ourselves?

We know the tears are not one way or the other. We cry both for ourselves for the loss of this beloved person and we cry for the joy they brought to our lives. We want to hear their voice, telephone them, send them a funny card, plan to have lunch, have their reassurance, and their laughter and see that smile one more, but we never will. The door has been shut and for those who believe in a hereafter, there is some comfort in knowing they will meet again. Anyone who does not hold such a belief must feel truly desolate because there will be no reunion. 

Looking back at the Edwardian practice of keeping a lock of a beloved’s hair, we can appreciate that wish to have something to hold on to and how precious those lockets must have been to their owners. Some today will ask for an item of clothing, a bit of jewelry or some other favorite of the deceased.

One thing we will all do, too, is to avoid the word “dead” and euphemisms will abound. We will refer to them being “gone,” “departed,” “passed,” “gone home” or anything else that will avoid the word “dead.” It has an terrifying connotation and we want to rid it as we would an awful thing that has caught hold of us. Death is to be avoided at all costs.

Remember them as you will and keep them alive in your thoughts and they will be with you forever. No one says you can’t do this. It’s your choice.