(This is dedicated to my brother who died a year ago this Father’s Day after a long and courageous battle with lung cancer.)
It is Springtime and I am doing my annual Spring cleaning– maniacally giving away old and unused clothes and items that no longer serve or never did. Some things I remember as I go through the linen chest– others are totally forgotten as to origin and use. And then it hits. In the corner of the chest is a neatly folded piece of green check cotton cloth. I immediately know its source. It is the cloth my Mother used to make curtains for her kitchen. Mom was always making curtains. When my husband and I were married she made curtains for our first apartment. We are still using them. Seeing this green check cloth brings me back to a hard period in my life when seeing my Mother was my only joy. We are sitting at the table in her kitchen having tea and laughing. It is a happy meeting. So many years ago.
And now with the sun shining and the birds singing and fresh air wafting in through the windows I am struck with uncontrollable grief. Tears that feel they could go on forever. It is as if she just died yesterday. But there is one difference, the remorse and the resentment I felt at the time is finally gone for the very first time. Some harsh words from my Mother as she lay dying, my lack of empathy and leaving without saying goodby for what was to be the last time– all this led to fifteen years of not being able to think of my Mother without guilt and deep regret. It was as if all of the good times we shared were negated by this one memory. Now the tears seem to be some sort of liquid acid dissolving the stone of resentment, guilt and remorse that squelched all the good. I feel cleansed and feel like I could cry a good, long cry as I go outside to sit in the sun. The sun seeps down in the wound like a salve.
Grief is not just a human phenomenon. Elephants will stand over the dead body of one of their herd, in some way showing respect for the departed spirit. And I think of examples close to home. The doe we saw one day going over to the dead body of a fawn on the side of the road. Or the baby rabbit we saw crossing into the middle of the road where a large mass of flesh with fur lay. And even closer to home– my husband and I adopted my Mother’s dog once Mom got too sick to care for her. Ko-ko had stayed with us many times in our house and loved being there. We never took her to see Mom again because the parting was too hard on both of them. We did take her toys though, from Mom’s house one night, and put them in our bedroom, among them a corroded rubber Santa. We were sitting at dinner that night and Ko-ko went into the bedroom. We heard a heart-stopping yelp and then whimpering. We went in and found Ko-ko with her old Santa in her mouth. The Santa was her version of my green check curtain. A stabbing wound and tears.
Clearly animals feel grief. Some die of grief just like humans. Grief binds us together, human and animal, and perhaps provides the special appeal of the new life in Spring. Yet when Spring inspires happy faces and a general feeling of well-being, and flowers are blooming everywhere, the contrast can be cruel. As T.S. Eliot so eloquently put it: “April is the cruelest month.” But once it is June the new life has settled in and we can go out in the yard and bake in the sun– the universal giver of life.
We humans have no prerogative on grief. Our lives entwine with happy moments and tragic in this vast web of existence, and Spring and loss are just two facets of possibility.
(Click http://www.independentauthornetwork.com/ellen-stockdale-wolfe.html for information on, and to purchase my Bipolar/Asperger’s memoir.)