On This, Another Short Day

“The bustle in a house the morning after death is solemnest of industries enacted upon earth…”

That’s Emily Dickinson, just after the death of her mother. You feel the truth of her words when a loved one dies. The hush does lift and the busy-ness begins.

Of course at the time when Emily Dickinson was writing, in the mid 1800s, most everyone died at home.

I was lucky because my one parent died at home too. In my home, right in this chair. That’s her cane resting where she left it. Really I just bring it out on the anniversary. Other times it stays in the umbrella stand in the front hall – unless little children are playing with it.

How comforting it has been over the years for me sit on the sofa opposite and look at this chair!  I feel as if she only just rose from it to get something and will soon be back. (And ah that’s the perspective all right, I realize writing it: the belief that have only just stepped away and we’ll soon enough see them again!) It reminds me of something else Emily wrote: “Dying is a wild night and a new road,” she said – “and we the Left Behind know not one thing about it” she might as well have added.

And that calls to mind a frequent remark by the oldest family member I ever knew, Great Aunt Mame born in the 1860s: “Not even a postcard!” she would hiss disgustedly and for comic effect, she who lived into her tenth decade, stripped of every last contemporary, sibling, and mill-girl chum from the 1880s. Not even a postcard: I love that.

And speaking of postcards, here’s one I came upon while looking for information about the school I attended as a young child.

It’s a picture of Notre Dame Academy in Roxbury, Massachusetts as it looked back in the 1880s. The message-side on the back was filled in by one “Mrs. B. Morris,”  who evidently thought she was better than the Catholics. Anyway it reflects the prejudices of that time and place: “A Catholic institution but a very pretty place,” she said of it as you can see here….
…which in turn reminds me of what young Emily Webb muses,  from her place in the Grovers Corners graveyard in  Our Town: “The living don’t understand, do they?” she says to another dead person in that  ground-breaking Thornton Wilder play. “No, dear, they don’t,” the dead lady beside her says back.
And that, folks, is the understatement to end all understatements – and reminds me of something my oldest child once said to me when she was all of 14, just after her father had said something to me that I found terribly vexing.
“Sometimes I just don’t understand Dad!” I said in a rare burst of candor.  
“You don’t have to understand him,” she said back. “You just have to love him.” 
And so it is with this life. We’re not called upon to understand it, its many partings and heartaches notwithstanding.
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One thought on “On This, Another Short Day

  1. That Mrs. Morris of the postcard: She invented Morris Dancing and was pouting because cutting a rug like that really vexed Mr. Morris. He did not participate in the dance, being tired from pulling down all that English Ivy.

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