Things I’ve learnt from those we’ve lost

I haven’t written much these past eight months.  My last post was in late July, and by early September two dear friends had died, within two days of each other.

For those two, and then in February for another dear departed mentor, I wrote the stories of what I owe to the people we have lost. I hope you might take a minute to read about Jill here, and about Mike here.  (My story about Kath is too personal to share anywhere other than with her, before she died, and with my fellow bereft people at her farewell party.)

At times like these, we humans do a lot of thinking about life, and death, and death in life, and what it all means, and I’ve been no different lately. The brutal truth is that the older we get, the more mortality’s march will affect us. If we are lucky enough to live long, we will need to learn to survive the pain of loss, and – is this possible? – learn to be happy in our own lives, despite that loss. Because if we can’t, we are wasting the gift that survival gives us.

So when I am hit by a wash of grief for my lost friends, I try to think about what they’ve taught me about life, and how I can carry them forward, both in my memory and my actions.

It seems too reductive, and too egotistical, to summarise here what I learnt from each.  But I feel like Kath is watching me write this and begging me to please just get to the point.  Sorry my love.  I have no point.  Here is a poem, instead.

On Hearing of a Death

We lack all knowledge of this parting. Death
does not deal with us. We have no reason
to show death admiration, love or hate;
his mask of feigned tragic lament gives us

a false impression. The world’s stage is still
filled with roles which we play. While we worry
that our performances may not please,
death also performs, although to no applause.

But as you left us, there broke upon this stage
a glimpse of reality, shown through the slight
opening through which you disappeared: green,
evergreen, bathed in sunlight, actual woods.

We keep on playing, still anxious, our difficult roles
declaiming, accompanied by matching gestures
as required. But your presence so suddenly
removed from our midst and from our play, at times

overcomes us like a sense of that other
reality: yours, that we are so overwhelmed
and play our actual lives instead of the performance,
forgetting altogether the applause.

– Rainer Maria Rilke


E nga mate haere, haere ki te pō

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