Friday, January 6, 2023

January 6: "For Tom Shaw S. S. J. E. (1945-2014)," Holy Cross Cemetery, Candles

Mary Oliver mourns . . . 

For Tom Shaw S. S. J. E. (1945-2014)

by:  Mary Oliver

Where has this cold come from?
"It comes from the death of your friend."

Will I always, from now on, be this cold?
"No, it will diminish.  But always,
          it will be with you."

What is the reason for it?
"Wasn't your friendship always as beautiful
          as a flame?"

I went for a long walk with my dog yesterday afternoon.  The branches of the trees bent over the path because of the fresh, heavy snow, and it was a cathedral of cold, white winter.  I ended up at Holy Cross Cemetery, where the cremation stone for my sister, Sally, and parents is located.

The stone itself was just another mound of snow yesterday, but I found it.  I waded through the drifts and brushed off the top to uncover their names.  Usually, on Christmas Eve, I make a pilgrimage to Holy Cross to visit them, especially Sally.  Christmas was her favorite time of year.  This December 24th, however, a blizzard made that impossible.

When I was there yesterday, I noticed a new stone next to my parents and Sally's stone.  When I brushed off the top of it, I found my sister Rose's name   I hadn't realized that her stone had been put in place.  Seeing Rose's name in those metal letters took my breath away.  It was almost like experiencing her loss all over.  It made her death more definite and final for some reason.

I continued on my walk through the cemetery for another hour or so.  Gazed at the Christmas wreaths and decorations that adorned the graves.  All the Virgin Marys hip-deep in drifts.  Tops of gravestones pushing out of the fresh snow like raised granite eyebrows.  The whole time, though, I kept thinking about my sister Rose's name on that stone.

When I finally got back to my car, I started it and turned the heater on full blast.  And I began shaking and sobbing.  It wasn't that cold of a day (maybe 31 or 32 degrees Fahrenheit), but I was freezing.  I didn't stop shivering for almost 15 minutes.  It was like grief was sitting in the back seat of my car, hands on my shoulders, just rattling my body.

That's what Oliver is talking about in today's poem.  I thought I had processed Rose's death, slogged my way through the worst of it.  I was wrong.  It's always going to be with me.  Sometimes, it will diminish, almost to the point of vanishing.  But, it will return, over and over, throughout the rest of my life.

Rose's candle was bright.  Everyone who knew her can attest to that.  Her whole life, she was light and joy, even when she was being a pain in the ass.  (I'm not going to canonize Rose.  She could be a pistol.)  Yesterday, by that stone, in my car, I really felt the absence of her candle.

I'm not complaining.  Experiencing Rose's absence like that simply means that I also received tremendous love from her, as well.  It's just the way it works.  We all need candles like that in our lives, don't we?

Saint Marty does.

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