01 July 2010


Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow, 
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sun on ripened grain, 
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft starlight at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die.

The day we buried my grandfather last spring, I thought my grief was complete.  

As a family we had borne each blow within the short span of a season. Illness, diagnosis, acceptance, decline, passing, viewing, and burial, bookended by the hope of spring and its fruition in bright bursts of rhododendron.  After all of the processing, planning, and tears, the three poignant blasts of the honor guard's guns signaled with intensity of the completion of the old man's journey.  I could feel no greater sorrow, no deeper sense of loss.  In that moment, I thought I was to walk ahead without him.


I don't know that I really accept what religion tells us about dying.  The content, to a degree, satisfies me.  The notion that families can be together forever, true or untrue, seems to speak to the continuity that I feel.  Memory is persistant, and while a day may be the difference between having a grandfather and not, the feeling of being a grandchild is everlasting.  

Yet religion doesn't speak to the second life my grandfather has taken in the material.  It's surprised me, the way I see him daily as I pass the small veteran's memorial by my house.  Eating a hot dog, his favorite food, is an act of tribute.  Some days I feel he pulls me to my favorite spot, the one facing west.  The one where I went to hide out and smoke cigarettes (his token subversive act) as the leaves returned to the trees and I contemplated his passing.  The presence he assumes throughout the homes of my family members, in park benches and coffee mug stands and balls of Christmas lights surrounded by plastic cups, is solid, sturdy, shining.


During these encounters I wonder: When did my world become a shrine?  Connected, I know that it has always been one.  Ancestor worship is my religion.  My sacrament takes familial forms.  My blood is represented by wine served in everyday chalices called "Papa Tony glasses" for the tiny serving our great-grandfather was known to take.  The bread comes in seemingly infinite forms-- little cookies offered at the homes of great-grannies and banana cakes made by pioneering women symbolize my body.  In prayer, I fold hands identical to my grandmother's.  Clouds of cigarette smoke are my incense, evoking gatherings on porches, at domino games, fishing.  I worship in churches of hand-me-down furniture wearing amulets of vintage necklaces and brooches, channeling centuries of grit and tenacity and strength.  My people are my divine, and my grief, hardly complete, becomes my faith.


portlandize.com said...

Have you ever read anything by Antoine de Saint-Exupery? This reminds me very much of his writing.

People leave a mark on the world, and for each of us, taming another person, as he puts it, changes the world for us. It becomes absolutely full of the people who we love, and that never goes away.

Grief is not the enemy we often make it out to be. While it's not necessarily pleasant in the easy way that happiness is, it can often be comforting and very grounding. I think pain, when it comes to relationships, is often a reminder that someone means something to us.

I would venture to say that if you've never felt grief at the loss of something, you've also never felt the joy of experiencing it while you had it, either.

Grief and joy live hand in hand.

Mom said...

I have read this post over and over since you put it up. It is a loving tribute to my Dad but also speaks volumes about who our family is. You always seem to be able to put the feelings on paper so expertly, I know that you wrote not just from your heart but from your soul. Love you!

dramma24boyz. said...

I lost my Dad 4 years August 1 . My dad was a proud Air Force Navigator that gave it up because my mother could not handle him being gone.He never got over it.
I was happy for him when he passed as he was no longer whom he was in life.Alzheimer's robbed him of his life and dignity. Now I am the daughter with out a father to share memories with .