That Cottage of Darkness

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.

Read on…

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.


14 thoughts on “That Cottage of Darkness

  1. My condolences, Terry. Thank You, Lord, on this Good Friday for the patience, love and joy shown to “Uncle Ed” while he was here with us. Thank you for the memories that Terry and her family have for the times spent together. Thank you for giving us Terry and giving her a heart to share life with the rest of us. Comfort her now and surround her with Your arms of love; as she has so many. AMEN

      1. Hi Terry, my condolences to you and your family. This prayer is the perfect response — beautiful and so true and I hope it gives you comfort.

  2. Oh Terry, I am so sorry to hear about Uncle Ed. He was so much a part of your days and you will miss gazing out at Horn Pond with him. I hope you can fill your days with his memory and smile when you think if his curmudgeonly manner at times.
    Our prayers are with you.

  3. Terry, he was lucky to have you and his family and it was a short time frame after his passing. Many families feel so much guilt when the time is a number of days or weeks.
    Well written.

  4. Terry,
    You have my utmost sympathy. Remember, though, that you were a joy in his life and he was a joy in yours.
    The Record

  5. As hard as it was for you to find your dear uncle, I think staying with him was a great opportunity to do one more very kind and loving thing for a fellow you love who clearly loves you too.

    In a complicated set of circumstances, I was the only family member with my sister’s body at the funeral home for many hours. I was the only one to see her before cremation. Though very difficult at the time, those hours of silence and understanding serve me well to this day.

    I think you will feel the same. Love, Cynthia

  6. My memory is of picking up my first grandchild from her coffin and cuddling her, rocking her until the funeral director came and took her away from me. She looked so sweet (2 months old) holding a rose in her hands and wearing a pretty white dress and shoes I’d bought for her. Coming as the fourth family death in ten months, hers was the hardest for me to take and led to a long period of depression. The poem you shared with us, Terry, opens a whole new way to look at death. Your generosity of spirit, staying with Ed until the men came to move him is inspirational. The loving person that you have been and are to everyone will keep Ed close to you showering you with part of Heaven’s Grace that he is experiencing. Love, Andrea

  7. Hey So wonderful to hear your voice today on the phone … just like old times, and whenever I hear your voice, it is as if NO time had passed!
    The poem in honor of Uncle Ed is lovely. SO PERFECT as a way to accept that his life had to end … and that ALL our lives at some point will have to end! It is something I want to start working on, for sure…accepting this thing called death.
    Carry on then, and know that you were a wonderful friend (and honorary daughter!) to him, and that he is smiling down on you at this very moment 🙂

  8. I have loved Uncle Ed since I was a small child. We (the McKeown’s) have known Uncle Eddie Spaghetti (with the meatball eyes) for over 60 years. Ed and Fran were wonderful neighbors and friends and my family spent many weekend BBQ’s with the Hayden’s and the Marotta’s. Ed’s wings marinated in French dressing were his signature dish, the best ever. Fran made an amazing pilaf. I will always remember her frying up her delightful Armenian dish in a frying pan.
    Ed played the piano with me. He taught me a few songs, and as the youngest of seven kids, he always made me feel like I was loved and appreciated. I will always cherish that.
    I regret not seeing more of Ed over that last few years. My lesson learned is to not ever take people or time for granted, as time is precious. We only live once and the wisdom that we learn from our elders is precious.

    Rest In Peace Ed, Love Patty Cook (McKeown)

  9. Thank you for sharing this, Terry…I feel a special closeness to Uncle Ed since you talked of your special times with him at the workshop in Maynard. God bless you and your family in this sad time and may the blessings of Easter fill you with hope, not despair, as you mourn your beloved Uncle Ed.

  10. I LOVED that you shared this poem, Terry. The “darkness” reflects that eery wonder that some have about what is it like to feel dying when you are not the one it’s happening to, but you wonder what it has been like for someone you love. I know saying this doesn’t ease the sting of your loss in any way, but , I hope that there is some comfort for you knowing that you were near your uncle after he passed.

    1. Thanks so much for this Judith. it’s a thing I think about a lot now, but there IS comfort in my having been right there…
      I keep looking at the picture of the chair he rose from minutes before he died, and the imprint of his head on the pillow from his afternoon nap…
      There’s a kind of Pompeii feeling to it …

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