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Tag: death

A Stoic speaks

Sunday, 15 July, 2018

“When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own — not of the same blood or birth, but of the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me. No one can implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my relative, or hate him. We were born to work together like feet, hands, and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and lower. To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on him: these are obstructions.” — Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius


A line for the reposing

Thursday, 11 January, 2018 0 Comments

Bereavement announcements are succinct: “The death has occurred of Lucy KINSELLA. Reposing this evening at her residence, Upper Street, Brunnbur, from 4 pm to 8 pm. Funeral arriving at St. Donough’s Church, Creagh, Saturday morning at 10.15 am for 11.00 am Mass. Burial afterwards in adjoining cemetery. May she rest in peace.”

Despite the freezing January fog, friends and neighbours stand patiently in line, often for more than an hour, speaking softly about the weather, shuffling and waiting for the few moments when they repeat incantations like, “Sorry for your troubles,” when shaking hands with the immediate family of the deceased. Enduring the conditions while “paying one’s respects” is a regular ritual and it bonds communities depleted by their loss. The scenes are guaranteed to be repeated.

The line for the reposing


They are not long, the days of wine and roses

Tuesday, 3 October, 2017 0 Comments

Sunday night’s mass murder in Las Vegas fills one with despair. What kind of rage or madness drives a person to do something so barbarous? Can it be detected? Treated? Which mental health checks can be done to prevent people acquiring fully automatic AR-15 style assault rifles with high capacity magazines?

As we wait for answers to all those questions, our attention should be focussed not on the killer but on his victims. They, and their families and friends, are the ones deserving sympathy and attention today. Those slaughtered were enjoying the music; they were living their lives when death was poured down upon them. To their memory, then, we dedicate Vitae Summa Brevis Spem Nos Vetat Incohare Longam by Ernest Dowson, an English poet who died aged 32 in 1900. In his short life and few poems, he created vivid phrases such as “gone with the wind,” “I have been faithful… in my fashion” and “days of wine and roses”.

Vitae Summa Brevis Spem Nos Vetat Incohare Longam

“The brief sum of life forbids us the hope of enduring long.” — Horace

They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate:
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.

Ernest Dowson (1867 – 1900)


Memorials outlast memories

Monday, 28 August, 2017 0 Comments

In Robert Goddard’s mathematical thriller, Out of the Sun, the hero, Harry Barnett, visits Kensal Green Cemetery and muses upon the erasure that death accomplishes: “The broken pillars still stood, the hollow helmets still echoed. But the thousands of names — and thousands of people they had once been — vanished sooner or later, beneath the lichen of utter forgetfulness. The memorials outlasted the memories. They alone remained, in this petrified forest of ceremonied mortality.”

Graveyard


John Hurt and John Donne

Saturday, 28 January, 2017 0 Comments

The late John Hurt starred in many films but there was something extra-special about his performance in The Hit, a 1984 British road movie directed by Stephen Frears. It also starred Terence Stamp, Tim Roth and Laura del Sol, and the music was by Eric Clapton, Roger Waters and the flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia. In a crucial scene, Terence Stamp quotes from the John Donne sonnet, Death, be not proud: “One short sleep past, we wake eternally / And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.”

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

John Donne (1572 – 1631)


Bitter-sweet cake, in memory of AA Gill

Sunday, 11 December, 2016 1 Comment

The great Sunday Times writer and critic, AA Gill, died at Charing Cross Hospital in London yesterday, shocking the journalistic community with the suddenness of his death. Only a few days earlier, Gill, 62, had finished what turned out to be his last article — an account of his search for a treatment that might have extended his life. His death robs British journalism of one of its most individual voices.

AA Gill was wholly politically incorrect and he delighted friend and foe with his observations: “There are many wonderful things about Egypt, but none of them is gastronomic. An Egyptian restaurant belongs on the same street as a Fijian ballet school, a Ukrainian tailor and a Nigerian interior decorator.” RIP.

AA Gill cake with citrus

“Death lends everything a metaphoric imperative. Mundane objects become fetishes when the departed no longer need them, and breakfast conversations grow runic and wise from behind the shadows.” — A.A. Gill


The tropic of grief

Wednesday, 20 January, 2016 0 Comments

“Let me tell you something about her,” Julian Barnes wrote of his wife, the literary agent Pat Kavanagh, in the half-chapter of A History of the World in 10½ Chapters, published in 1989. In fact, Barnes told readers very little about her.

Pat Kavanagh died in in 2008, five weeks after being diagnosed with a brain tumour, and Julian Barnes needed five years before he could express his anguish in book form. Levels of Life is that book. Actually, it’s three essays and only in the final one does Barnes approach the great love that gave way to the great grief he endured and continues to endure. Distraught by how many memories of Pat he has lost, he lists what he remembers: the last clothes she bought, the last wine she drank, the last book she read. But he doesn’t reveal what they were.

Rightly, Barnes is contemptuous of the euphemism “passed” and he quotes E. M. Forster: “One death may explain itself, but it throws no light upon another.” The condolences offered to the grieving are enumerated and rejected: suffering makes you stronger, things get easier after the first year, you will be reunited in the next life. There is no comfort in formulae, no compensation in phrases.

“This is what those who haven’t crossed the tropic of grief often fail to understand: the fact that someone is dead may mean that they are not alive, but doesn’t mean that they do not exist.” — Julian Barnes, Levels of Life

In Lisvernane


David Bowie (8 January 1947 – 10 January 2016)

Monday, 11 January, 2016 0 Comments

“And I’m floating / in a most peculiar way / And the stars look very different today.” — David Bowie, Space Oddity. With his command to “Silence the pianos and with muffled drum,” and his request to “Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come,” W H Auden is appropriate for this dark day on which a great star has gone out. Rest In Peace.

Funeral Blues

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

W H Auden


A month of mourning and cake

Tuesday, 6 October, 2015 1 Comment

How does one measure the extent, the expanse of human loss? And when it involves the loss of a beloved mother, how does one explain the feeling of anguish left by the absence of so constant and cherished a presence? Words fail. Although a month has elapsed since her death, the pain remains acute.

One source of comfort in these sad days is the support offered by her friends and neighbours. Their loyalty and support is heroic and the beautiful memorial cake baked by the saintly Milly Hanley expresses love better than any phrase or sentence. The act of taking the time to create something nourishing in the style favoured by my mother is the ultimate tribute to her legacy.

Milly's memorial cake


Death, be not proud

Thursday, 2 April, 2015 0 Comments

Daddy

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

John Donne (1572 – 1631)


The used graveyard

Sunday, 2 November, 2014 0 Comments

Today is All Souls’ Day, an observance that dates back to the 11th century, when Odilo, Abbot of Cluny in Saône-et-Loire, decreed that all monasteries should offer prayers for the Dead on 2 November, the day after the feast of All Saints. The custom spread and was adopted throughout the Catholic Church.

A New England graveyard is no longer used because the local community has died out, but visitors still come to read the tombstones, out of curiosity. The inscriptions, however, warn those reading them that they must eventually join the dead. In this poem, Robert Frost gently mocks our unwillingness to face this fact.

In A Disused Graveyard

The living come with grassy tread
To read the gravestones on the hill;
The graveyard draws the living still,
But never anymore the dead.
The verses in it say and say:
“The ones who living come today
To read the stones and go away
Tomorrow dead will come to stay.”
So sure of death the marbles rhyme,
Yet can’t help marking all the time
How no one dead will seem to come.
What is it men are shrinking from?
It would be easy to be clever
And tell the stones: Men hate to die
And have stopped dying now forever.
I think they would believe the lie.

Robert Frost (1874 — 1963)

Graveyard