I went back to the cricket pavilion a little saddened and unquiet. I told myself that he would probably get better in a week or two And I thought this guess had proved to be right when, at the end of the term, he wrote to me that we would be spending the summer in Scotland, where an old friend of his, who had a place in Aberdeenshire, had invited him to come and rest and get well.
We took one of those night trains from King's Cross. Father seemed well enough, although by the time we got to Aberdeen the following noon, after stopping at a lot of grey and dreary Scotch stations, he was weary and silent.
We had a long wait at Aberdeen, and we thought of going out and taking a look at the city. We stepped out of the station into a wide, deserted cobbled street. In the distance there was a harbor. We saw gulls, and the masts and funnel of what appeared to be a couple of trawlers. But the place seemed to have been struck by a plague. There was no one in sight. Now that I think of it, it must have been Sunday, for dead as Aberdeen is, it surely could not have been so completely deserted on the week day. The whole place was as grey as a tomb, and the forbidding aspect of all that hostile and untenanted granite depressed us both so much that we immediately returned to the station, and sat down in the refreshment room, and ordered some hotch-potch, which did little or nothing to lighten our spirits.
It was late by the time we got to lunch. The sun came out, and slanted a long ray at the far hills of heather which constituted our host's grouse-moor. The air was clear and silent as we drove out of the forsaken town that seemed to us more of a settlement than a town, and headed into the wilderness.
For the first few days Father kept to his room, coming down for meals. Once or twice he went out into the garden. Soon he could not even come down for meals. The doctor paid frequent visits, and soon I understood that Father was not getting better at all.
Finally, one day he called me up to the room.
"I have to go back to London," he said.
"I must go to a hospital, son."
"Are you worse?"
"I don't get any better."
"Have they still not found out what it is that is the matter with you, Father?"
He shook his head. But he said, "Pray God to make me well. I think I ought to be all right in due course. Don't be unhappy."
But I was unhappy.
"You like it here, don't you?" he asked me.
"Oh, it's all right, I suppose."
"You'll stay here. They are very nice. They will take care of you, and it will do you good. Do you like the horses?"
I admitted without any undue excitement or enthusiasm that the ponies were all right. There were two of them. The two nieces of the family and I spent part of the day grooming them and cleaning out their stalls, and part of the day riding them. But, as far as I was concerned, it was too much work. The nieces, divining this unsportsmanlike attitude of mine, tended to be a little hostile and to boss me around in a patronizing sort of a way. They were sixteen and seventeen, and seemed to have nothing whatever on their minds except horses, and they did not even look like their normal selves when they were not in riding breeches.
And so Father said good-bye, and we put him on the train, and he went to London to the Middlesex Hospital.
Merton's father is not getting any better, and Merton is slowly realizing how sick he is. It's not an easy thing to watch someone you love slowly slip away. Merton has already watched his mother die, and now he's witnessing his father's decline. At a young age, Merton is becoming well-acquainted with loss and grief.
As you can tell, I've been working on this post for three days. Been struggling with exactly what I wanted to say. No matter how I approach this little passage from The Seven Storey Mountain, I keep coming back to the same topic: grief. I've been trying to remain a little more positive in what I share on this blog, simply because I know how many people are dealing with difficult circumstances at the moment--unemployment, illness, depression, and the like. Everyone is in the same boat. (I found out just a a little while ago that a good friend has recently been laid off and suffered an unexpected death in the family.) In the last week or so, I know that I haven't been that successful in remaining upbeat. I apologize for that.
Yet, as the Book of Common Prayer reminds us, "In the midst of life we are in death." It's all part of the process of existing on this planet, in this universe. And death can come in many forms. Physical death--the ultimate separation. Emotional death--the demise of happiness and joy. Relational death--the changing or ending of a significant relationship. The thing to keep in mind with all of these forms of loss I just listed is that the process of grieving is the same. And it's not easy. Ever.
One important part of this process is taking care of yourself. Eating well. Sleeping well. Indulging in small (or big) pleasures, like reading a good book, watching a favorite movie, writing a poem, painting a picture, rebuilding a car engine, playing board games with your kids. Whatever.
I am witnessing someone whom I care about a great deal slowly slip away from his life. Let's call him Solo. (I am a Star Wars nut.) Through the choices Solo is making, he is cutting himself off from everyone who cares about him. Family. Friends. Kids. Spouse. I've tried to help Solo in every way I can, and nothing has altered his trajectory. And so here I sit in my kitchen on a Saturday morning, feeling more than a little powerless, faced with the inevitability of this loss.
Today, I'm going to do the only thing I can do: take care of myself. I just made myself a good breakfast. After I finish this blog post, I'm going to get dressed and take my puppy for a long walk. Then, I think I'm going to work on a manuscript of poems that I've had for a while. Create something that gives me happiness. Because, although it is true that in the midst of life we are in death, the inverse is equally valid: in the midst of death we are in life.
If Solo reads this post, it will probably make no difference. His sickness runs pretty deep, and, until he is faced fully with the consequences of his choices (and by then it will be too late), he won't realize all that he's lost.
In the mean time, Saint Marty may watch the original 1977 Star Wars tonight. After all, the subtitle of that film is A New Hope.
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