Susan Whitmore: You're never going to have your normal life back, but it doesn't mean it won't be a good life

Alone_by_knud_horup_19261973_ps

[Susan Whitmore lost her only child, Erika, in 2002.  She set up a foundation for other grieving parents.

Grieving... is a life-long process...."You have to create a lot of new memories over a long time without that child," she explains, "so that you can rebuild your life....You're never going to have your normal life back, but it doesn't mean it won't be a good life. It will be a different life, a new life."

   --From an article by Katie Grim in Westside Today, December 2007


C.S. Lewis: I cannot talk to the children about her

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I cannot talk to the children about her. The moment I try, there appears on their faces neither grief, nor love, nor fear, nor pity, but the most fatal of all non-conductors, embarrassment. They look as if I were committing an indecency. They are longing for me to stop. I felt just the same after my own mother's death when my father mentioned her. I can't blame them. It's the way boys are.

   --C.S. Lewis in A Grief Observed (1961). The children were his wife's two boys, Douglas and David Gresham, whom he adopted in 1956. (They became heirs to the Narnia estate.) They were in their teens when their mother died.


David Grossman: It's like hell in slow motion, all the time

Fire_by_ssa61_at_flickr

It's a painful life, now. It's like hell in slow motion, all the time. I don't try to escape grief. I face grief in an intense way in my writing, but not only in my writing. If I have to suffer, I want to understand my situation thoroughly. It's not an easy place to be, but so be it. If I'm doomed to it, I want-- it's a human predicament, and I want to experience it....

Anything that is calm and safe seems to me like an illusion.

            --David Grossman (1954- ), Israeli novelist, in an interview with Jonathan Shainin in the Paris Review, Fall 2007. His youngest son, Uri, was killed in August 2006 during the Israeli offensive in Lebanon.


Crowfoot: Life is the flash of a firefly in the night

Crop_bison_by_london_is_rad_at_fl_2

What is life?
It is the flash of a firefly in the night.
It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime.
It is the little shadow which runs across
the grass and loses itself in the sunset.

   --Attributed to Crowfoot (ca 1830-1890), chief of the Canadian Blackfoot tribe.

If you know the source of the quote, please let me know.


Egill Skallagrímsson: A Viking laments his two sons

Inner_nryfjord_gudvangen_by_im_flic

The Irreparable Loss of Sons

My mouth strains
To move the tongue
To weigh and wing
The choice word:
Not easy to breathe
Odin's inspiration
In my heart's hinterland
Little hope there.

A leaden weight
Lies on my tongue,
I cannot sustain
The measure of a song
Odin has stolen
My heart's treasure;
I draw no succour
From the stores of my soul

Fallen_tree_by_bluechameleon_at_fli

The pride of my house
Is beaten to the ground
Like trees of the forest
Bowed before the storm.
How can a man rejoice
Who has borne to the grave
The bodies of his kin
From their earthly seats?

First I must tell
Of the death of my mother,
The loss of my father.
Breath of my praise shall
Rise from the temple
Where language lives,
Where words adorn
The structure with leaves.

Our family shield-wall
Is torn wide open;
Cruel waves broke
My father's firm line.
How vast is the breach,
How empty the place
Where the sea entered
And snatched away my son.

Shoreham_angry_waves_by_sarey_at_fl

Ran the fierce sea-god
Has ravaged all my land,
All those I loved
He seized as his spoils.
Broken are the bonds
That held us together,
The links I held firmly
Between my hands.

--

The pillaging sea
Has robbed me of my riches.
Hard it is to speak of
The loss of my kin.
He who was our shield
Has left us defenseless,
Lost to our sight
On the distant roads of death.

No shred of bad faith,
No falsity ever
Would have grown in my son -
I know that well,
If the young wood
Of his shield had hardened;
If he had not fallen
To the barbarous armies.

Ps_young_man_looking_into_the_futur

For him my word was law;
He stood by his father
Though all the people
Might hold a different view.
More than any other
He would sustain me;
He was ever
A stronghold sure.

--

What other comrade
Shall I find faithful
To stand at my side
In my hour of need?
When among traitors
My friends melt away
And I must flee, who then
Will cover my retreat?

--

What can make amends
For the loss of a son?
What compensation
Pays for such a death?
How could I beget
Another such boy
Who should be held
The equal of his brother?

Ps_karissa_does_not_explain_it_all_

I take no pleasure
In the company of men:
Though they are peacemakers,
Still I avoid them.
For now my son reaches
The god's dark palace;
Now my wife's darling
Has gone to join his kin.

--

The fire of a fever
Has burned up my son,
Hatefully ravished
Away from our world.
Wise, he's free forever
From threat of shame,
Never can touch him
The taint of disgrace.

--

To Odin, chief among gods
And friend of Mimir,
Henceforth I'll offer
No willing sacrifice,
Though he - I won it freely -
Gave for what I suffer
As recompense, a gift
I hold as unequalled.

Hand_sword_by_leo_reynolds_flickr

He - the wolf's enemy,
Veteran of battles -
He gave me this matchless
Gift, which is my art.
And with it, a nature,
Bane of my enemies
That drives me to root out
Their treacherous frauds.

Now all goes hard for me.
I see Hel, the goddess,
Foe to duplicity,
Waiting on the headland.
Nevertheless, joyfully,
With a jocund will
And a heart that fears nothing,
I await my death.   

    --Egil Skalla-Grimsson, poem from Egilssaga, one of the greatest Viking sagas. Poem translated by Anne Ridler (1912-1992), 1992.

Egil was almost certainly a real person who lived in the 900s. The masterly poetry in the saga is older than the saga itself, which was written in the eleventh century. The lament was composed late in Egil's life after the death of his two sons.

Sonatorrek

Mjök erum tregt
tungu at hrœra
með loptvætt
ljóðpundara;
esa nú vænligt
of Viðurs þýfi,
né hógdrœgt
ór hugar fylgsni.

Esa auðþeystr,
þvít ekki veldr
höfugligr,
ór hyggju stað
fagna fundr
Friggjar niðja
ár borinn
ór Jötunheimum.

Lastalauss,
es lifnaði
á nökkvers
nökkva bragi;
jötuns hals
undir þjóta
náins niðr
fyr naustdurum.

Þvít ætt mín
á enda stendr,
hreggbarnir
sem hlynir marka;
esa karskr maðr,
sás kögla berr
frænda hrørs
af fletjum niðr.

Þó munk mitt
ok móður hrør
föður fall
fyrst of telja;
þat berk út
ór orðhofi
mærðar timbr
máli laufgat.

Grimt vörum hlið,
þat's hrönn of braut
föður míns
á frændgarði;
veitk ófult
ok opit standa
sonar skarð,
es mér sær of vann.

Mjök hefr Rón
of rysktan mik;
emk ofsnauðr
at ástvinum;
sleit marr bönd
minnar ættar,
snaran þótt
af sjölfum mér.

Veizt ef sök
sverði of rækak,
vas ölsmið
allra tíma;
hroða vábrœðr
ef viða mættak,
fórk ægis
andvígr mani.

En ek ekki
eiga þóttumk
sakar afl
við sonar bana,
þvít alþjóð
fyr augum verðr
gamals þegns
gengileysi.

Mik hefr marr
miklu ræntan;
grimt es fall
frænda at telja,
síðan's minn
á munvega
ættar skjöldr
af lífi hvarf.

Veitk þat sjalfr,
at í syni mínum
vasa ills þegns
efni vaxit,
ef randviðr
røskvask næði,
uns hergauts
hendr of tœki.

Æ lét flest
þat's faðir mælti,
þótt öll þjóð
annat segði,
mér upp helt
of herbergi
ok mitt afl
mest of studdi.

Opt kømr mér
mána brúðar
í byrvind
brœðraleysi;
hyggjumk umb,
es hildr þróask,
nýsumk hins
ok hygg at því,

hverr mér hugaðr
á hlið standi
annarr þegn
við óðræði;
þarfk þess opt
við þrágörum;
verðk varfleygr,
es vinir þverra.

Mjök's torfyndr,
sás trúa knegum,
of alþjóð
elgjar galga,
þvít niflgóðr
niðja steypir
bróður hrør
við baugum selr.

Finnk þat opt
es féar beiðir - - -

Þat's ok mælt
at mangi getr
sonar iðgjöld
nema sjalfr ali,
né þann enn
es öðrum sé
borinn maðr
í bróður stað.

Erumka þekt
þjóða sinni,
þótt sér hverr
sótt of haldi;
burr's býskeiðs
í bœ kominn,
kvánar sonr,
kynnis leita.

En mér fens
í föstum þokk
hrosta höfundr
á hendi stendr;
máka upp
í aroar grímu
rýnnis reið
réttri halda.

Síz son minn
sóttar brími
heiptugligr
ór heimi nam,
þanns ek veit
at varnaði
vamma vanr
við námæli.

Þat mank enn,
es upp of hóf
í Goðheim
Gauta spjalli
ættar ask,
þanns óx af mér,
ok kynvið
kvánar minnar.

Áttak gótt
við geirs dróttin,
gerðumk tryggr
at trúa hónum,
áðr vinan
vagna rúni
sigrhöfundr
of sleit við mik.

Blœtka því
bróður Vílis,
goðjaðar,
at gjarn séak;
þó hefr Míms vinr
mér of fengnar
bölva bœtr,
es et betra telk.

Göfumk íþrótt
ulfs of bági
vígi vanr
vammi firða
ok þat geð,
es gerðak mér
vísa fjandr
af vélöndum.

Nú erum torvelt,
Tveggja bága
njörva nipt
á nesi stendr,
skalk þó glaðr
góðum vilja
ok ó-hryggr
heljar bíða.


C.S. Lewis: Snowflakes of me on the image of her

Fallen_angel_by_evil_yoda_flickr

Slowly, quietly, like snow-flakes-- like the small flakes that come when it is going to snow all night-- little flakes of me, my impressions, my selections, are settling down on the image of her. The real shape will be quite hidden in the end. Ten minutes-- ten seconds-- of the real H. would correct all this.....The rough, sharp, cleansing tang of her otherness is gone.

    --C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) in A Grief Observed. He was writing of Joy Davidman Gresham, who died less than four years after they were married.


Gordon Wilson: I have lost my daughter.... I shall pray for those people every night.

Enniskillen_after_bombing

On the 8th of November 1987, twenty years ago today, a crowd gathered in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland at a monument for the war dead, for a memorial service on Remembrance Day. A bomb planted by the Provisional IRA, meant to kill soldiers and policemen at the service, went off ten minutes early. Eleven people, all but one civilians, died in the explosion and under the rubble, and one man left in a coma died 13 years later without recovering consciousness. Sixty-three people were injured. The Provisional IRA was forced by its own horrified supporters to apologize, and the incident has come to be seen as a turning point in the Troubles. The IRA lost support around the world because of video footage of the bombing and its aftermath. This led indirectly to more tranquility in the region, which is relatively peaceful today.

The most famous story to emerge from the massacre was that of Marie Wilson, a twenty-year-old girl who had been standing near the monument with her father, Gordon Wilson. They were buried under bricks.

We were both thrown forward, rubble and stones and whatever in and around and over us and under us. I was aware of a pain in my right shoulder. I shouted to Marie was she all right and she said yes, she found my hand and said, "Is that your hand, dad?" Now remember we were under six foot of rubble. I said "Are you all right?" and she said yes, but she was shouting in between. Three of four times I asked her, and she always said yes, she was all right. When I asked her the fifth time, "Are you all right, Marie?" she said, "Daddy, I love you very much." Those were the last words she spoke to me. She still held my hand quite firmly and I kept shouting at her, "Marie, are you all right?" but there wasn't a reply. We were there about five minutes. Someone came and pulled me out. I said, "I'm all right but for God's sake my daughter is lying right beside me and I don't think she is too well." She's dead. She didn't die there. She died later. The hospital was magnificent, truly impressive, and our friends have been great, but I miss my daughter, and we shall miss her but I bear no ill will, I bear no grudge. She was a great wee lassie, she loved her profession. She was a pet and she's dead. She's in heaven, and we'll meet again.

Don't ask me please for a purpose. I don't have a purpose. I don't have an answer, but I know there has to be a plan. If I didn't think that, I would commit suicide. It's part of a greater plan, and God is good. And we shall meet again.

I have lost my daughter, and we shall miss her. But I bear no ill will. I bear no grudge.
Dirty sort of talk is not going to bring her back to life.*

Marie's father told the BBC that he forgave her killers and added: "I shall pray for those people tonight and every night."

"Gordon Wilson's quiet dignity had a profound effect on many people in Northern Ireland. He was later involved with initiatives to improve community relations in Enniskillen and eventually was appointed to the Senate in the Republic of Ireland. Gordon Wilson died on 27 June 1995 aged 68." --From the website of CAIN [Conflict Archive on the INternet], Conflict and Politics in Northern Ireland (1968 to the present)

Conor Carson, a schoolboy at the time, wrote the poem below to commemorate Marie.   The red-paper poppy, an uncontroversial sign of respect for war dead in Britain (and Canada, Australia and New Zealand), is seen by some Catholic nationalists in Northern Ireland as a symbol of British identity. Marie and the other victims at Enniskillen were Protestant.

* You can hear Gordon Wilson's 1987 BBC interview here.

Lest_we_forget_by_jedistemo_flickr     

Marie Wilson

Enniskillen, 8 November 1987

Under the statue
    of the Unknown Soldier
a man prepares
    a bomb. He is
an unknown soldier.

The patron saint of warriors
    is Michael.
Between the unknown soldiers
    is a wall.
It is the gable
    of St Michael's Hall.

This was Remembrance Sunday.
    Poppy Day.
They came to hear
    the bugles in the square.
They did not count
    the unknown soldiers there.

Today there were no sermons.
    Unknown soldiers
said later it had not
    gone off as planned.
Under the bricks
    she held her father's hand.

Today there was no Last Post.
    Her last words
were "Daddy, I love you."
    He said he would trust
God. But her poppy
lay in the dust.

The protector of unknown soldiers
    is Michael.
The father is at the grave.
    A bell peals.
The name Michael
    means "God heals."

                    --From the anthology A Rage for Order: Poetry of the Northern Ireland Troubles, ed. Frank Ormsby (1947- ) (pub. 1992)






Eric Clapton: The terrible numbness that I lived in

Conor_eric_claptons_son When I try to take myself back to that time, to recall the terrible numbness that I lived in, I recoil in fear. I never want to go through anything like that again. Originally, these songs were never meant for publication or public consumption; they were just what I did to stop from going mad...

When it came out, it was the biggest-selling album of my entire career....But if you want to know what it actually cost me, go to Ripley, and visit the grave of my son.

     --Eric Clapton (1945- ), on the death of his 4-year-old son Conor. In March, 1991, Conor fell from a 53rd-story window in New York City. Vanity Fair, November 2007.

Ripley_graveyard
Graveyard in Ripley, Yorkshire

Tears in Heaven lyrics:

Would you know my name
If I saw you in heaven
Will it be the same
If I saw you in heaven
I must be strong, and carry on
Cause I know I don't belong
Here in heaven

Would you hold my hand
If I saw you in heaven
Would you help me stand
If I saw you in heaven
I'll find my way, through night and day
Cause I know I just can't stay
Here in heaven

Time can bring you down
Time can bend your knee
Time can break your heart
Have you begging please
Begging please

Beyond the door
There's peace I'm sure.
And I know there'll be no more...
Tears in heaven

Would you know my name
If I saw you in heaven
Will it be the same
If I saw you in heaven
I must be strong, and carry on
Cause I know I don't belong
Here in heaven

Cause I know I don't belong
Here in heaven


John Montague: Unmarked faces fierce with grief

Pat_mcbrides_funeral_slainte_at_f_2

Falls Funeral

Unmarked faces
fierce with grief

a line of children
led by a small coffin

the young
mourning the young

a sight beyond tears
beyond pious belief

David's brethren
in the Land of Goliath

      --John Montague (1929- ), in Contemporary Irish Poetry (1988). This poem refers to the Troubles, and Falls Road in West Belfast.