Sunday, May 5, 2013

Up here in the frozen north, spring committals are an unpleasant ritual. Anyone who dies when the ground is frozen has to wait for burial till after thaw, and this is what happened to the family of our 13-year-old friend who died of brain cancer in January.

So yesterday morning, we all gathered round the gravesite for the committal ceremony. It was a beautiful morning: birches glowing on the stony hillside, a woodpecker rapping. I was there with my son, who was weeping, of course. "It is so terrible for her friends," said the dead girl's father to me later. "They don't have much experience with losing things yet."

Suddenly, just before the end of the ceremony, there was a scuffle in the front row, then a scream of "Call 9-1-1! She's having a heart attack!" The girl's grandmother was on the ground, the local EMT was flying down the hill in his winged work boots to fetch the ambulance, the school nurse was on the grass beside the grandmother, the crowd was shocked and scared. I looked over at my son, and he had turned a dreadful shade of green. He, too, dropped to the ground, though still under his own volition, and put his head between his knees. He did not quite pass out, but he was close.

The incident had as happy an ending as one could hope for: the grandmother had simply fainted from exhaustion and stress. However, the scene was difficult to erase from our minds, and my son was in a state of intense grief for a long time afterward.


Ruth said...

It is not only the young who have trouble with lose. No matter how many times we experience lose, it does not get easier. My heart was with all of you.

Christopher said...

Thanks, for that Dawn.

Your description has got in it all the elements of what my favorite painter, Stanley Spencer, calls a "Cookham feeling" -- that's what he was searching for in almost everything he did, a local village immediacy that makes sense out of the universe.

I like in particular his painting called “Parents Resurrecting” (1933) which takes place, like so many of his greatest paintings, in a graveyard. “The woman on the right is full of happiness at feeling his legs," he wrote, "real living ones, and real trouser cloth … the whole affair is fenced off from the world by a chain. Everything inside that chain is Holy, every incident is Sacred joy.“

What's so special in all your writing, Dawn, is the joy in the details, however wrenching the event. In "Missionaries (1758)," for example, it's hard to say whether this is the beginning of a great-hearted spiritual adventure or a very foolish, stubborn, and messy dead-end.

Christopher said...

Here's where you can see the painting -- took me a long time to find it!

Dawn Potter said...

Thanks for the link to Spencer's painting. I've never seen his work before. For some reason its aura reminds me a bit of Katherine Mansfield's New Zealand stories, though I don't know why.

Christopher said...

It was a period, and dinosaurs like you and I and everybody we feel most comfortable with today still thrive in it.

I love AndrĂ© Derain's portrait of Balthus -- both painter and painted represent everything about it, including the girl who is what it's really about (look at Stanley Spencer’s self-portraits with women!!!). Because women are what made it -- the women who inspired and guided the Pre-Raphaelites, tamed the Fauves and the Nabis, and started writing like Virginia Woolf, Edna St Vincent Millay and Katherine Mansfield -- you'll be able to go on with that list better than I can, and I give you permission to include you know who.

Here's what the women looked like. This is the painter Dod Procter and her husband not in Harmony, Maine but already in Newlyn, West Cornwall (1934):

And Dod Procter was also a very great painter -- ”Morning” (1926):