Someone in my family is very ill. I had done some research and posted a beautiful quotation from the Bible here but find that, due to subsequent events, it will be better if I remove those kind and beautiful words.
My father has now been gone for nine days. The world has continued on, scarcely noticing his absence. My own wish is not to resume normal life just yet. I want to stay with my grief, to stay with his memory, for yet some time.
As part of that effort, I've been trying to recite the Mourner's Kaddish each day. I am not Jewish, my father was not Jewish, and yet this feels right to me.
I was pleased to find this short article about the experience of three daughters in saying Kaddish for their father during the first eleven months after his death. My experience won't be the same, since I will not be part of a kehillah. Still, I hope that saying Kaddish will help me to stay for a longer time with my father's presence and memory.
During the week of February 21st, my family and I knew that my father was dying. He passed away in the early morning hours of Monday, February 27, exactly one week ago today. In the last week, then, we have been attending to funeral arrangements, an obituary, visits, a wake, a funeral, and finally a burial.
During the first few days of the week which we knew would be his last, we sought to make my father comfortable. I tried to reassure him that we would remain with him, and would make sure that he had everything he could possibly need. He seemed comforted by this reassurance and he seemed to enjoy the presence of his wife and various, shifting combinations of his six children in his room. It was a level of company and activity which had once been normal for him but rare in recent years.
After those few days, he slept more and seemed to recede from us. Although I occasionally tried to offer the same reassurances, they no longer felt right. He no longer seemed there to receive them. My speaking directly to him seemed, in fact, almost to agitate him, as though I were calling him away from a task he needed to complete, from a direction in which he needed to go.
At that point, however, I still had a need to speak. And so I turned at last to the religious tradition in which we had all been raised. I found some Catholic prayers for the dying and took them to my father's room. In the afternoon, I placed my hand on his unconscious shoulder and read:
I commend you, dear Daniel, to the almighty God. I give you over to the care of Him whose creature you are.
A bit further on, the prayer continued:
When, therefore, your soul shall depart from your body, May the glorious armies of the Angels meet you. May the court of the Apostles receive you. May the triumphant band of glorious Martyrs come out to welcome you. May the splendid company of Confessors clad in their white robes surround you. May you meet with a blessed rest in the embrace of the Patriarchs.
Near the end, the prayer continued:
Let the heavens be opened to him. Let the angels rejoice with him. Let the archangel St Michael conduct him, for you have appointed him chief of the heavenly host. Let the holy Angels come out to meet him. Let them bring him to the city of the heavenly Jerusalem.
The final words were these:
Into your hands, Lord, we commit the spirit of your servant Daniel. (Luke 23.4)
O Lord Jesus Christ, receive his spirit (Acts 7.59)
Holy Mary, Mother of grace, Mother of mercy, defend him from the enemy and receive him at the hour of death.
These were the words and thoughts in which my father had been schooled from his earliest days, as indeed I had been myself. They seemed just right for the solemn occasion on which I recited them. If my father was able to hear them, I am sure they comforted him. Whatever my belief, or even the state of my belief, I have to say that they comforted me as well.
I hope that the heavens were opened to him, that the Archangel Michael conducted him, and that the Angels brought my father to the city of the heavenly Jerusalem.
Some years ago I gave a CD called Cleaning to the Classics to my younger sister. She loved it, and I've been intending ever since to get one for myself. Yesterday I finally ordered one at Amazon.com and I'm so looking forward to its arrival.
Take a look at the playlist and you'll see that this music really does have the potential to light a fire under the reluctant house-cleaner:
Khatchaturian - Sabre Dance (02:29)
Wagner - Ride of the Valkyries (05:33)
Mussogorsky - Night On Bald Mountain (11:11)
Verdi - Triumphal March (11:45)
Ipolitov-Ivanov - Caucasion Sketches (03:47)
Verdi - Anvil Chorus (02:58)
Berlioz - Damnation of Faust (04:13)
Strauss - Thunder and Lightening Fast Polkas (03:16)
Beethoven - The Storm from Symphony 6 (03:18)
Rimsky-Korsakov - Cortege (04:46)
Tchaikovsky - 1812 Overture (03:36)
The punchline comes with the very first track. You put on the CD, grab your duster -- and Khatchaturian just makes you want to go into action!
It strikes me that many arguments, especially within a family, are simply about who we are, and how someone else wants to change that. Perhaps it isn't convenient for them to be you; perhaps you are not who they dreamed of having as a son, daughter, brother, father, whomever. Perhaps you stand for something they fear. Perhaps you merely represent something for which they have contempt. (Possibly both of the last two are the same. I'm not sure.)
Much of the pain that I have experienced in recent days, and which I have found so crippling, goes back decades to exactly such an argument within my own family. They did not like what I was; could not see any use in it; feared it; scorned it. And therefore scorned me.
I came across the novel "A Thing of Beauty" for the first time only last year. It was written by A.J. Cronin, an author whom I like quite a lot, and published in 1955.
The novel is about a young man whose parents want him to follow in his father's footsteps as a respectable country Church of England pastor. He cannot. He simply cannot. He needs to draw and paint, and cannot do anything else. They cut him off and, in time, essentially disown him.
One sentence in the novel keeps coming to mind as I struggle to understand my own situation. It comes near the end, years after the young man left home, when it's already been years since he's had any real contact with his family.
He meets with his sister, who still lives in the old family home where she looks after their aged father. The sister says to him:
If you'd only been a good son, stayed at home, gone into the Church and helped Father, kept control over things, and over Mother, we'd still all be happy at Stillwater. You'd be loved and respected . . . "
He interrupts and says:
Instead of hated and despised.
And that's exactly how I feel: hated and despised. Actually, I feel more peace now, having recognized that fact, having accepted those very words, than I have at any time since that awful moment on Tuesday morning when I opened that email.
I should add that my sin was never that of being an artist. It's something much less, really. As near as I can tell, it's just the sin of having wanted a better life, a higher one, if you will. The sin of thinking that philosophy and the arts deserve a prominent place on the spectrum, rather than being given the back of the hand. Of wanting my days to be infused with poetry and the beautiful. Of preferring the high over the low and, sometimes, even over the middle. Of believing that questioning and careful exploration and the use of the best logic we can manage are preferable to superstition and dismissal and the acceptance of authority qua authority.
I'm willing, I suppose, to continue feeling hated and despised for those things. (Sometimes, though, the pain is renewed. And I do notice that years of this have exacted their toll.)
How do we heal from cruelty? from mean words, said in a deliberate attempt to injure?
That is my question for today.
In part, it seems that we must simply let a certain amount of time go by. After all, when we are injured physically, that is nearly always the case. Even a superficial wound will disappear only over a few days. A deeper one will take a good deal longer.
We heal, I guess, by remembering that we have recovered from similar, or worse, events in the past.
Etc., etc. I am not, however, consoled by any of these thoughts. A betrayal takes longer, I suppose, than an injury not accompanied by betrayal.
Someone close to me has recently lost her husband, who was also her best friend. Grief, then, has been on my mind in recent days. I'm again struck, as I have been after my own bereavements, that one does not want to "feel better" after a loss. One wants the lost person or object or opportunity to be restored. That is all one wants. Not relief from pain, but for there to be no cause of the pain.
I suppose my pain in this instance is compounded by grief.
And that, I suppose, is another way that we heal -- by identifying the various strands of the painful situation, and by naming them.
I feel somehow, though, that this person's wickedness, her sheer evil, means for me that it is time to stop even trying to stem the tide of criticism and dislike and hatred. I stand engulfed. Having struggled so hard, for so very, very long, I cannot imagine continuing that effort. I have, in the end, simply been defeated.
It has become clear that I will need to blog elsewhere for a while. On the one hand, I cannot continue here for the present because I no longer feel safe here. On the other, I need to continue in order to diminish my pain and feel hope again. (And to maintain some connection with those of you who have been so kind as to write to me.)
I'm looking into some of the possibilities. To those of you who have been so good as to follow StB in the past, if you would like to know my next location, please send an email to the indicated address. Thank you for everything.
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I am trying to remember this:
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." — Martin Luther King Jr.
"For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." - 2 Timothy 1:7.
I'm still working out what happened. A critical factor is that I was focused on supplying other people with good support, the online equivalent of Beef Burgundy. What this other person was giving me was a steady supply of dog food. In the end, yes, I was unable to continue to tolerate that and I asked that the person stop serving me with her Purina. She was enraged by this request. The coach was full of sympathy for her.
Okay, okay, it's true -- I object to being served dog food. Since that is a sin, yes, I am a sinner.