Here below is my favorite Mary Oliver poem, When Death Comes. Death came 36 hours ago for my Uncle Ed, and it came in just that way, the dagger of ice plunged between the shoulder blades.
I found his body and I got to be near it for a long time: through the EMT’s to the police, to the firefighters who had to take the hinges off the bathroom door to get him out because he fell against it, wedging it shut. Ed was a big man.
When they did finally get him out, his arms were up – frozen up because he had died some 12 or 15 hours before – and it just struck me, that position. He looked like he was reaching out to embrace some dear long-awaited friend.
That’s the image I will take with me over the next days. It reminded me of this poem. Mary Oliver says Let me live my life like the bride married to amazement, Like the bridegroom taking the world in his arms.
When Death Comes
When death comes like the hungry bear in autumn;
When death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
When death comes like the measle-pox;
When death comes like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,
I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering: what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?
And therefore I look upon everything
As a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
And I look upon time as no more than an idea,
And I consider eternity as another possibility,
And I think of each life as a flower, as common
As a field daisy, and as singular,
And each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
Tending, as all music does, toward silence,
And each body a lion of courage, and something
Precious to the earth.
When it’s over I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement,
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
If I have made of my life something particular and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing
And frightened, or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.