Category Archives: death

Mael Mhedha of the dark brows.

Just now I read a newsletter from a Touchstone Magazine editor, on the subject of marriage. He included this quite old poem which conveys the feelings that a person might have, after the death of one’s spouse. Having lived that way of existence, the state of being one flesh with one’s spouse, as the Bible describes it, and then losing it… The poet graphically describes, in the most evocative metaphors, what the loss means, from his crown to his feet. He’s lost his grip on his own body.

ELEGY ON MAEL MHEDHA, HIS WIFE

My soul parted from me last night.
In the grave, a pure dear body.
A kind, refined soul was taken
from me, a linen shroud about her….

Mael Mhedha of the dark brows,
my cask of mead at my side;
my heart, my shadow split from me,
flowers’ crown, planted, now bowed down.

My body’s gone from my grip
and has fallen to her share,
my body’s splintered in two,
since she’s gone, soft, fine and fair.

One of my feet she was, one side—
like the whitethorn was her face—
our goods were never ‘hers’ and ‘mine’—
one of my hands, one of my eyes.

Half my body, that young candle—
it’s harsh, what I’ve been dealt, Lord.
I’m weary speaking of it:
she was half my very soul.

My first love, her great soft eye,
ivory-white and curved her breast,
neither her fair flesh nor her side
lay near another man but me.

We were twenty years together.
Our speech grew sweeter each year.
She bore me eleven children,
the tall young long-fingered tree.

Though I am, I do not thrive
since my proud hazel-nut fell,
Since my great love parted from me,
the dark world’s empty and bare.

Dear the soft hand which was here,
King of the churches and bells.
Och! that hand never swore false oath.
Sore, that it’s not under my head.

—Muireadhach Albanach O Dalaigh, c. 1224
Translated from Gaelic in The Triumph Tree 

Howard Pyle, The Wonder Clock

Dark forms yearning upward.

VERTICAL

Perhaps the purpose
of leaves is to conceal
the verticality
of trees
which we notice
in December
as if for the first time:
row after row
of dark forms
yearning upwards.
And since we will be
horizontal ourselves
for so long,
let us now honor
the gods
of the vertical:
stalks of wheat
which to the ant
must seem as high
as these trees do to us,
silos and
telephone poles,
stalagmites
and skyscrapers.
but most of all
these winter oaks,
these soft-fleshed poplars,
this birch
whose bark is like
roughened skin
against which I lean
my chilled head,
not ready
to lie down.

– Linda Pastan

Birch Trees by Lahle Wolfe

A long caravan of evenings.

Two of my friends fell asleep in death last week. One was a monk who was buried at his monastery some distance from here, and the other, John, was a member of our parish. His funeral was today, and I was able to attend it.

I’ve written a lot about funerals and death since my husband died, and am at the point where, though I continue to experience grief, these days the loss and its pain primarily show themselves as elements of the same stuff that every single human experiences, we who live as part of this creation that we also live in. The creation that is waiting:

“For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.”  -Romans 8

John had been married to his wife for 64 years, since she was 18 years old. He had suffered great pain and disability for much of his life — his particular “stuff,” but while waiting for his full redemption, he was busy doing good works. Maybe his spirit was groaning for its deliverance from corruption, but he expressed his eagerness in generosity and encouraging words and cooking for people.

I was looking for a poem to post this evening, because I had no good story of my own to share. It turns out there was no poem at hand that would serve very well, but here is one from the archives that reminds us to keep on keeping on, through whatever losses we suffer. I’ll see you in the morning!

PASSAGE

And there was evening, humid
with lightning, when my father

fell to the earth like summer hail,
scattered. I gathered

my mother, we threw in
a handful of pebbles. And

there was morning, bitterly.
There was evening news

bluing walls, violet morning
on thunderheads, and the evening

when morning
would never again light our bodies in bed.

Morning caravans, headlights,
evening. A long caravan of evenings. Then

there was only me, morning. Awake in a room
in a building vast with rooms. Everyone

evening. Everyone morning. And God
had finished all the work he had been doing—

babies, honeybees, spreadsheets, winter
mornings. I said,

I will not stop here, evening. I’ll see you
in the morning.

–Thomas Dooley

We live in tents.

To be a Christian is to be a traveller… like the Israelite people in the desert of Sinai, we live in tents, not houses, for spiritually we are always on the move. We are on a journey through the inward space of the heart, a journey not measured by the hours of our watch or the days of the calendar, for it is a journey out of time into eternity.

– Met. Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way

It is less than a month since Metropolitan Kallistos reposed in death, and I ran across this quote from him, which is especially meaningful at this point in chronos time.

Memory Eternal!