good grief, bad sadness

“The trouble is, you think you have time.” from Jack Kornfield’s Buddha’s Little Instruction Book (1994)

Pretty soon after my mother died, I wrote about it; it’s what I do, I write. One of the things I wrote was a description of her dying and death. I’m glad I did it then, I couldn’t do it as fearlessly now. I was manic then and it was still all far too real. Corporeal. Now its visceral, of course. It’s almost two years now and still hurts like a something that hurts more than anything else in your life. Childbirth or a migraine, I suppose.

“There is no task as urgent for us as to learn daily how to die, but our knowledge of death is not increased by the renunciation of life; only the ripe fruit of the here and now that has been seized and bitten will spread its indescribable taste in us.” Rainer Maria Rilke

(Despite his beliefs being light years from mine, I love René Karl Wilhelm Johann Josef Maria Rilke’s mind a lot. And he wrote a fair amount about death.)

It’s the ripe fruit, that I have lost since she died. I have renounced life like an emo adolescent, because the world without her still feels wrong. Longetivity is pretty good in my family, I always thought she’d very likely make 90 … well she didn’t make very old bones at all; she didn’t even see 80.

We had a tumultuous relationship, the way that only mothers and daughters can. I cursed her, she despaired, I angered her, she hurt me. She loved me like a tiger and would have stopped a bullet for me. Nextofkin and I were that loyal to her too. It was just the three of us, in so many ways. And yes, in some ways it still is, but it’s so, so lonely without her.

I can’t write this stuff without pauses and tears and unpaused tears.


I am a hell of a lot like her, we could finish each other’s sentences. We used to say that we only had one brain between us. Words, writing and reading came to me via her and my grandfather before her. It must be genetic. I lecture people the way she did, whether they want it or not. She was brave, tough and didn’t like herself very much at all. We loved the same poetry, we usually loved very different books.

We were chalk and cheese, she was far more ruthless than I and held more grudges. She was revoltingly good at Scrabble (I am simply horrible at it) and ferociously good at learning.

She left diaries that nextofkin and I have barely looked at, and I contemplate burning them every once in a while. She left a scrap of paper with her dreams written on it and died with them unfulfilled. She accomplished a lot, travelled a lot, loved hard and knew so much that you’d swear she knew everything.

We were absolutely clean and clear with each other before she died and what’s even better, is that we reached that point before she started dying. That fact is the greatest of fortunes and consolations. Another great joy is that she was my mother. An enormous tragedy is that dhe never forgave herself for my childhood. A truly good thing is that she died with what was left of her family around her, at home.


Death Experience
Rainer Maria Rilke (tr. Cliff Crego)

We know nothing of this going away, that
shares nothing with us. We have no reason,
whether astonishment and love or hate,
to display Death, whom a fantastic mask

of tragic lament astonishingly disfigures.
Now the world is still full of roles which we play
as long as we make sure, that, like it or not,
Death plays, too, although he does not please us.

But when you left, a strip of reality broke
upon the stage through the very opening
through which you vanished: Green, true green,
true sunshine, true forest.

We continue our play. Picking up gestures
now and then, and anxiously reciting
that which was difficult to learn; but your far away,
removed out of our performance existence,

sometimes overcomes us, as an awareness
descending upon us of this very reality,
so that for a while we play Life
rapturously, not thinking of any applause.

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