And You As Well Must Die, Beloved Dust
And you as well must die, beloved dust,
And all your beauty stand you in no stead;
This flawless, vital hand, this perfect head,
This body of flame and steel, before the gust
Of Death, or under his autumnal frost,
Shall be as any leaf, be no less dead
Than the first leaf that fell,—this wonder fled.
Altered, estranged, disintegrated, lost.
Nor shall my love avail you in your hour.
In spite of all my love, you will arise
Upon that day and wander down the air
Obscurely as the unattended flower,
It mattering not how beautiful you were,
Or how beloved above all else that dies.
Edna St. Vincent Millay-- Second April 1921
On January 16th, my Grandmother passed away quietly in the early hours of morning. My uncle had spoken with her just before 5 and when he returned at 7, she was gone. Her body was still warm.
The morning she passed away, my young son awoke at 5 to nurse. He normally sleeps until just past 7, but that morning, he awoke early. I was mostly awake, drifting between sleep and wakefulness between the hours of 5 and 7 and my grandmother was heavy on my mind. I knew she was very ill, as I had heard her diagnosis of lung cancer was terminal. But I thought we had more time, that she would fight it the same way she fought everything in her life. The reality of an inoperable tumour and a possible spot on her kidney became a battle she could not fight.
She lived 86 full years of life. She was a southern "belle" with a southern drawl. She cooked a feast every meal, drank fine wine, sweet tea, black coffee and eggnog with rum and bourbon. She loved opera, cross word puzzles, jeopordy, Christmas, and read two books a week, even up to the time of her death. She truly was the matriach of the family and filled a room, even a building at times with her voice and her presence. Her opinionated stance on politics and history was fear-inducing and I always felt I needed to have my notes ready anytime I decided to debate her. In my uncle's words "we were all terrified of her", especially of her intelligence.
I flew to Arizona the morning of the 18th to be with my family and to help with funeral preparations. It was a heavy and sorrow-filled few days with deep layers of grief. Crisis magnifies what is already present in a family. In certain arenas, deep love and bondedness grew and expanded with the loss. And in others, cold isolation and disconnectedness became more evident than before. While new levels of relationship formed, new hurts were inflicted, further complicating the complexity of our human relations, of our family dynamics between drastically different individuals.
I carry within me vivid experiences from those few short days. Losing a Grandparent is not only the end of a person's life, but the end of a generation. And I felt a poignant sadness that I still struggle to put my finger on. I still hunger to hear her voice share stories from her experiences but I have to put that desire to rest and be content with anecdotal snippets from others.
Edna St. Vincent Millay was my Grandmother's favorite poet. So, it felt appropriate to read this poem as part of the funeral ceremony. I was amazed to make it through without faltering. I have never been one who is able to continue speaking once I begin to cry. I was thankful for the chance to be there and to carry these words in my heart.