The Dead Are Not Dead

Once you’re grown up, you stop making a big deal about your birthday. If you’ve learned anything over the years it’s not to wreck a nice thing by wishing it were nicer.

On my birthday last month I had mail from my sister in Florida and my husband David’s 90-year-old uncle. That was it for cards.

But I also got many shout-outs from my friends on Facebook and what did I care that a spot at the top of their ‘page’ told them it was my birthday? I still felt touched.

I saw my kids and there were presents.  It was all very nice and after they’d all left and David and I were settling in for a quiet night we had an exchange that I think surprised us both. “So did you have a nice birthday?” David asked me.

“Oh I really did! Only… well, my mom hasn’t called yet.”

“I know,” he said with a kindly expression, “but she will!”

“How?” I said, and we smiled sadly because both our mothers lie now under that rafter of satin and roof of stone that Emily Dickinson once spoke of.

Still, what he had said changed my whole orientation.

For some reason I couldn’t fall asleep that night. I lay in our bed for two long hours before doing something I had never before done in our marriage: I left our room and went to the guest room, whose bed felt strange and unaccustomed.

I lay in it for yet another hour. Finally, giving up on sleep, I went and got my laptop and brought it t back to the bed.

I opened up the social network called ‘Goodreads’ and there saw this passage from Marilynne Robinson’s wonderful novel Housekeeping in which she is writing about the ones we miss:

“There is so little to remember of anyone – an anecdote, a conversation at a table. But every memory is turned over and over again, every word, however chance, written in the heart in the hope that memory will fulfill itself, and become flesh, and that the wanderers will find a way home.”

I had to stop a minute at the tenderness of that phrase: “the hope that the memory will become flesh.”

I read on, to where she speaks of the accompanying hope that “the perished, whose lack we always feel, will step through the door finally and stroke our hair with dreaming habitual fondness, not having meant to keep us waiting long.”

“To stroke our hair with dreaming habitual fondness”: ah what a touching image! I closed the laptop then and was again stretching out in that unfamiliar bed when I suddenly I realized it wasn’t unfamiliar at all. The bed I was lying in had been my mother’s own bed, the same one in which I had lain during every childhood illness, while she slept across the narrow hallway with both doors open so she could watch me as I slept.

So I had had heard from her after all, just as kindly David had said I would, a realization that caused me to smile, yawn once, turn on my side and sleep like a baby ‘til morning.


22 thoughts on “The Dead Are Not Dead

  1. …..the trick comes in recognizing the visit; a song, a smell, a cool breeze, a dream……I am so grateful when one of my departed stops by to check-in……..:-))

  2. Yes, it doesn’t have to be a parent who visits. It can be a grandparent, a lost child, a dear friend; it depends on the situation but you will know by what is transmitted to you who is in touch with you. Very comforting indeed. It was a wonderful column, Terry and I think your David was a real sweetheart for his part in it. God bless you both. ❤

  3. Thank you, Terry. I just feel closer to my folks and it isn’t even my birthday….you just gave me an early present.

  4. This was so touching, i have to admit i wept, cried like a baby, birthdays, holidays, just every day living is not the same without our dear departed not here. Thank you for that beautiful writing,

  5. It never ceases to amaze me about David, the quiet yet deep intuitive gent that he is! That prophecy is almost more amazing then the visit from your mom.

    Our loved ones can and do visit often as you realized here, when it is least expected, a realization that was either as dramatic as lightening striking one’s head or as subtle as a gentle scent slowly filling the room or just an inexplicable sensation you feel yet can still identify it as a presence of a departed loved one. In your case, I am sure your mom was cradling you as you lay in the comfort of that unfamiliar yet Very Familiar bed. What a beautiful event Terry! I wish I could write my experiences as eloquently as you!

  6. That was very touching. I believe our loved ones are with us. I have a 4 yr old grand daughter who thinks it is an everyday thing to see people who have passed. When we go to my husbands grave , she talks about a little boy named Brendon that she plays with. We asked her where he was and she ran through the cemetary until she stopped at the grave of a little boy named Brendon who died at 3. Strange but not to her.

  7. There is a follow-on thought to this lovely column that I think about from time to time: all of these beloved people continue to live, in some sense, because we cherish and remember them. I once thought of writing about all those who will die again with me. It is a heavy human responsibility we have to them. And a great provocation to write, as you do, to outrun time.

  8. It’s been a while, since our newspaper gradually, and then completely, stopped carrying your column. So I gradually got used to not reading it, but I think I would recognize your writing even if it were published anonymously. It sounds kind of corny to say, but I think that’s what makes your readers feel as if they know you. You touch on what others are feeling—-“I could have written that column; that is, if I could only write.” Thanks.

    1. Oh Mary Ellen that is so kind! It’s never that we want to be LIKED in this world; we just want to be known. The kindest thing I hear is when a person says, “Well, that’s just Joe.” I love the recognition in that; the level of acceptance. So glad you accepted me, back in my circuit-riding days!

  9. I recall when teaching Hemingway’s “Fathers and Sons,” one of my favorite stories, telling the class that there were people in the classroom just as present to me at that moment as the students themselves. Of late, I have been thinking that I bear those people a great responsibility, insofar as it is in my memory that they continue to impinge on the present. I saw a related idea on Facebook and wrote to ask its author if I could quote him: “The past is a sea anchor I drag from my stern to keep me steady in heavy weather.”

    1. That is one lovely quote Roger. I can tell you that every time I see you named as Roger F. Stacey on Facebook I think of your mother Vivian Foy Stacey who I never had the pleasure of meeting but who YOU described there once, dancing with her son on her 100th birthday. What is death next to an image like THAT?
      Thank you for this comment.

      1. And thank YOU very much for your reply, which assures me I have been–to some extent–meeting that responsibility.

  10. The dead are most certainly Not dead. They are very much still around. We don’t necessarily have to “see or feel” them to know they are there. They have a way of manifesting their presence, like that article you read, that was so spot on for you, and so intuitively accurate for Dave. It can come in the form of an object, like in your case, the bed you were sleeping in, even a sudden scent, even a date or a specific hour/time! I remember hearing one of my dad’s favorite song on the anniversary of his passing on the radio, and while yes, it was a fairly common song, it came just at the right time and struck me just right. No, your’re right, the dead are Not dead!

    1. I loved reading this Patty and did not realize until now that I had replied to you only in my mind with a big “Yes!” Thanks so much and.. I bet I can guess what that song was! XXOO

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