Thursday, April 16, 2015

Only death

I was re-reading The Summer of the Great Grandmother yesterday, and the line jumped out at me, "Only death can give my mother back to me." It's true. The memory of her last few months, when she was really gone from me, are starting to blur a little. It's leaving, bit by bit, although I don't think I'll ever forget holding her hand, fighting to get the oxygen back on, the sound of her low moaning after she was pretty much catatonic but was in pain. The way she looked when she was taken to the hospital the first time, severely dehydrated but responsive. She looked almost as much like death as when she had actually died. The colour went out of her eyes.

But I am starting to assemble her back together in my head, the story of her, with more detachment and compassion and affection than before. And the parts that were before her crisis are surfacing in my memory. In The Telling,  by Le Guin, one character says to another, "death begins the Telling of our life.", and another, earlier, "The grave... where it begins."

I love that book- it's one of the ones I've read aloud to Geoff. I like what she says about how we need the stories to hold us together. The story is how we know who and what we are. And that makes sense to me, because God is the Word, and words are meant to be spoken, and we people exist in relationship and in story because we are made in that image. And so my mother is, in my head and in my prayers, coming together in a wholeness that is no longer temporal and linear. And I hope that she, and the story of her, are being made whole.


Sally Thomas said...

Oh, I read that one, too. I wish I'd thought of it after my dad died. His tenth anniversary is this summer, which seems huge -- how can he have been not-here for ten whole years? How can it be possible that he's never going to answer the phone when I call?

But one of time's gifts is that the person's whole life starts to return to you, and not just those last moments or days. And I love telling stories to my kids about their grandfather, particularly to the younger kids who don't remember him -- for a long time I was so grief-stricken that they wouldn't remember him that it was hard to give them that gift.

lissla lissar said...

But so important! And so good once you can manage it. The girls have helpful asked me, "You mommy? You mommy dead? You mommy in Heaven?" several times a day, every day since Mum died. And at first I would burst into tears every time I answered. But it was a good reminder that they needed reassurance, and they needed Grandma to keep being with them through me.

Melanie Bettinelli said...

"they needed Grandma to keep being with them through me."
I love the idea of being the mediator of the dead for the living.

Also, I'm put in mind "And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living."

lissla lissar said...

Melanie, Yes! That's it exactly.

One of the good things about starting the telling of someone's life, after their death, is that there is less constraint about looking for the story. Because when someone is alive, they should mostly be considered as they are now, the living person. But death means you can go looking for all the parts.