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In memoriam: succeeding death with words

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For a girl I know March will always be the hardest month of the year to live through. In this same month is her late brother’s birthday, shortly followed by the anniversary of the day he took his own life.

Already the urge to stop writing and recede into reticence envelops me. For to try to fill the limitless silence between the opening paragraph and this, to speak into that burgeoning emptiness, seems almost ridiculous. Impossible. That a single word of mine on a blog like this could be added, that it might in some inconceivable way affect, change, or heal a truth so devastating, so immovable, so irreversible.

In my last post I said that to write poetry, for me, means to wrestle with words. It is the same with letters and messages of condolence. For the most part such messages, I sense, are a rarity. Not because we are lazy nor because our compassion doesn’t encompass someone else’s grief, but because words come awkwardly – or don’t come at all. We fear platitudes.

Yet eulogies and epitaphs are common place. Common place, but mainly unnoticed, and seldom spoken of. We skip over them in newspapers. We pass them by in graveyards – those tablets of stone on which is written one commandment only: live. They are hardly inconspicuous, but their existence is almost clandestine.

We seem to have a peculiar relationship between words and death. There is certainly discomfort, naturally. But I wonder if there is also neglect. Not an active, irreverent neglect, but a neglect of passivity born out of the discomfort we feel. We are coerced into silence. I don’t think it should be like this. I am painfully sensitive to clichés, but I don’t think death has to have the last word. We do. We who are still alive.

Shakespeare hit the nail on the head square on when in his closing rhyming couplet of Sonnet XVIII he wrote,

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.

We must continue to succeed death with words. Be it an epitaph or a letter of condolence, we must continue to write. And we must continue to read. When we don’t, we neglect the sorrow and we forget the memory. More than this, we fail to participate in an experience of truth. Because truly, I don’t know what else can begin to heal the pain of death and the loneliness of grief except truth. Lies won’t, and neither will denial.

One of the hard things I know for the girl who lost her brother was the lack of acknowledgment she received after he died. It’s no one’s fault; she doesn’t blame anyone. Words don’t come easy. But in the silence that has been left is a sense in her that his death has been forgotten, or that it is somehow taboo. It is not taboo. It did happen. So just to acknowledge it, just to begin to fill that void of loneliness with words, is something. We must continue to succeed death with words.

Today is the second anniversary of her brother’s death. And so today I am writing to remember this, to acknowledge the sorrow, to remember the memory.

M.C.C. 03.05.1969 – 03.22.2010