Monday 28 January 2013

What grief weighs

FOR A WEEK our hills and roofs and lanes and plans have been under a white blanket of snow. And all through those muffled bright-quiet days of strange hibernation, I was in bed ill, unable to go out and enjoy the cold beautiful winterness that shone in eerily through the cottage windows. Instead I read voraciously whilst my dear Tom brought me broths and tonics. The combination of being snowed in and bunged up added a layer of odd sadness to my days; I felt the winter whispering its song of profound death and stopping, as we huddled inside, unable to do anything but stop. 

The snows are gone now, replaced by howling winds. These cold dark January days have pricked the hearts of several people dear to me with the sadness of death, and in their beautiful griefs, I honour them.

Dear friends Andy and Nomi, with whom we spent happy days just before Christmas, are now struggling to hold the huge sadness of losing their baby, in the womb five months. They have spoken eloquently of this, the unfathomable sorrow of having to give birth to a baby already dead, and of her naming, and her being. To Lyra May I send love.

A week ago my friend Gretel Parker, whom many of you will know through her wonderful illustration, felt-craft and well-loved blog, lost her life-partner and sweetheart Andy, who was found dead in the snow last Sunday. I am reeling from this news, and cannot imagine what Gretel is feeling. A campaign has been started by her friends to help her manage financially in these next months, as Andy had no will. His wage supported them and enabled their recent purchase of their forever-house, so if you can help Gretel in any way not to have to think about money in the midst of her grief, I know her huge online community of friends would be grateful. 

And this week saw the one year anniversary of the death of our dear friend Thomas. In Friday's cold snow, a gaggle of his friends and beloveds climbed the hill where he is buried and planted hundreds of trees in the earth where he lays. We miss him terribly. But this year I have watched his wife Lunar navigate this, the sharpest of paths, with a grace and strength I didn't know was possible. She has flown on warrior-wings through the feather-ripping gales of grief. She has mothered her young daughter with skill and beauty. She has honoured her own grief with the pain and tears and joys and memories and humour and discomfort and incongruity of the days that follow on. I am honoured to call her a friend; she emboldens us with her strength.

The photograph above was taken in 1926 by Alter Kacyzne, a writer, poet, journalist and passionate photographer of Jewish life in Poland. The photo shows the village gravedigger of Biała Podlaska, Lublin province, teaching his grandson to read, whilst the boy's grandmother looks on with pleasure. 
Most of Alter Kacyzne's photographs were completely destroyed during the second world war. The only pictures which survived, together with the captions he gave them, were those he sent for publication to the American Yiddish journal Forwerts.
Alter Kacyzne was beaten to death together with five hundred other Jews in the cemetery of Tarnopol by local Ukrainian collaborators during the German occupation of Warsaw, and his wife perished in the Belżec death camp. Their daughter was sheltered by a Polish family and so survived the occupation. Who knows how many of the subjects of his beautiful photographs died similar deaths at the hands of the Nazis?

One of the books I read whilst in my snow-confined sick bed was Fugitive Pieces by Canadian poet Anne Michaels - a beautifully-wrought work telling two Holocaust stories with a fierce art and a fine delicacy, and of love's power, even amid such atrocity as humans are capable of. 
Near the end of the book, I read this:

The night you and I met, Jakob, I heard you tell my wife that there's a moment when love makes us believe in death for the first time. You recognise the one whose loss, even contemplated, you'll carry forever, like a sleeping child. All grief, anyone's grief, you said, is the weight of a sleeping child.

And I think that's true.


Unknown said...

Love can afford to believe in death, because love is stronger than death. No one, nothing in this universe can change the fact that we love or loved someone or something. Nothing can change that fact, ever. Carry the child. And when it gradually awakens, there will be only love.
Thanks Rima Staines, and prayers with all of you in this season.

Linda Sue said...

Winter- let me die in winter no other season would do. Terribly sad for the ones left behind- and we all must go there.

Charlotte said...

You put this so much more eloquently than I. Like you I have reeled from the news of Andy. What has struck me strongly though is that this internet is fishing out bonds of friendship in ways I could never have imagined. That it has allowed us to support and communicate in a way that can be used as and when the griever feels ready. Allowed us the most human need, to share and empathise. For that and the words of those such as you, Tom, Luna, Terri, Rossichka, Valerianna and more I am truly thankful.

Mel said...

Such a lovely post, I believe as you do those words by Anne Michaels to be true. Grief is heavy all around this winter, it seems. Hope you are on the mend.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

My hand flew to my heart upon reading of dear Gretel's loss of Andy. I didn't know! My heart is breaking for her. Breaking.

Della said...

My most heartfelt wishes to you and your friends Rima at this most difficult time.

Acornmoon said...

You have written this very difficult post with great feeling and eloquence. I wondered if you had heard the news about Gretel, I felt sure you would hear somehow. Thanks for posting the link, I posted one also, let's hope she gets lots of support.

Jess said...

I too have felt the heaviness of these past few weeks. The funeral of a friend who died too young, a wiccan funeral,so beautiful and memorable with the love that was there.
I was, and still am, totally shocked at Andy's death. I can't imagine the pain Gretel is in but my heart lifts every time I see another blog friend pass on the news so we can all help her a little.
I hope you're feeling better and recovered! We saw the sun come out in Devon over the weekend, I hope it touched you too. :)
Jess xx

Soozcat said...

Is it not strange that the weight of grief we seem to physically bear does not match the void left by the loved one in our souls?

Thank you for your beautiful and sensitive words, Rima. For all who grieve.

Amy said...

I am a casual reader of Gretel's blog (I loved Cotswold Peeps), and reading about Andy made me gasp out loud. Using FB to get the word out about the fundraiser.

ramona said...

Rima-May your little robin accompany you during this sorrowful time.

The photo you chose for this post is so very perfect... I love it.

henrietta said...

If everyone could take to their bed and let their words fly so beautifully; my heart aches with the loss you describe, but the poetry of what you wrote also gave me courage, the warrior wings gave me strength. I lost my daughter Lily Rose 3 years ago and have seen and lived those dark bottomless days of despair but know it is possible to soar again with wings fluttering with love and spirit. Blessings to you and all those who grieve, love xxx

Unknown said...

Salutations, dear. I do hope and pray that you're on the mend.

Thank you for composing this post. Lying here in this hospital chair next to the crib of our newborn, Ava Leigh, I'm grateful for the chance your words have given me to cry by myself and release a bit from my emotional spigot... Since our daughter was born on the 14th and underwent surgery on the 16th, life has been a series of tubes and tests and monitors for our little wren. I know without a doubt that we're blessed beyond measure with her ascent toward recovery. Still, we hold our breath, more out of habit than anything. Thank you for simply being your empathetic self. You are my favorite blogger, and tonight I was reminded why.
One day when this hospital shadow has past, I would love to raise money to commission you to create something for Ava to commemorate our family's journey toward her health.

Susan Wells said...

Thank you for this Rima. The stinging hairs of the slave whip imbue our land here on Turtle Island as the horror of the Jewish genocide stains the earth across the sea. Your post reminds our waters, hearts and dreams are all connected. I am so glad to be on the wagon of acknowledging and transmuting with you.

Angela and Melinda said...

I don't know you, but your post brought tears to my eyes. I've just been studying 19th-century postmortem photography, so the loss of the stillborn baby struck quite close to the bone. My best to you in your illness and your grief.

Velma Bolyard said...

rima, this winter has been dark and harsh indeed. be healing, and get thoroughly well; it took me three weeks to get through my illness.

Lynn said...

Thank you for this, Rima.

Bimbimbie said...

... a beautiful quote to end such a sad post Rima.

Philippa said...

Dear Heather - I feel for you as you pass through your trial of tubes and tests and monitors.... We had four major surgeries to live through with our dearest Thomas and thirty years of great love and joy and laughter through it all. It is indeed a special blessing to hold our precious children as they navigate their way to survival and health. I miss my dear Thomas every day but carry the memory of his laughter and sweet kindness in my heart. I am sending love to you and to Ava. Philippa x

jerilanders said...

The news of Gretel's Andy was heartbreaking. I hope that many will find the means to help her in this time of sadness and tragedy."All grief... is the weight of a sleeping child", This could not have been expressed more poignantly.. A very touching post.

rossichka said...

It happens that we have such months in our life - some full of joyful events, others - of sad ones! I'm sorry to hear that January was and will always be marked for you by the grief of your friends! One of them is mine, too - Gretel. My heart aches for her and I feel so happy to see every day that there're new and new people who want to help her!
Thank you for this post, Rima! It'S so tender, warm and beautiful in its sadness! And wise - as everything you write about each and every time!:0

gz said...

Being the other side of the World I have missed some of your posts. I hope you are feeling better, despite a further dose of snow.
It is good to hear that Lunar Hine is well.
It took a year for me to walk through into a new life after losing my Mountain Man.
Send a hug to Gretel, please. It is obvious friends will be there for both of them and that is good. People don't know how long it takes.

Lunar Hine said...

Oh Rima, such words. Today I am stark and sore,so your love for me and my girl and that wonderful man we once knew... it is a balm of the richest kind.
Love to all of us as we reach a hand into the void.
Just love.