Grief for R.

July 24, 2010 § 4 Comments

Grief descends swiftly. We circle and swoop towards each other, arms outstretched, cheeks red and swollen from crying. Our mother, daughter, sister, aunt, lover, friend has gone. Is gone. Is. Gone. Gatherings occur, food is warmed, the air is soaked with the scent of grief and everyone moves slowly, allowing small escapes of low laughter in the dim kitchen light. People call. The phone is both a comfort and a wound. Words seem to drop out of our mouths like worms, and every sentence seems to echo too loudly with the obvious. There is a strong awareness of tense. She was so brave. She will be remembered.

When someone’s physical body dies, we want to breathe life into the perfect description of them.  We must celebrate, commemorate, honour, and invigorate their memory, our memory of who they were; it’s important to articulate the battle they fought. When I try to think of the right words for Ruth’s sacred description, my senses seem to lose all sense of time.

I see her dancing in the firelight with wickedly delicious joy in her eyes. I hear her voice calling to her small children as they swam like fish in the lake. I feel her skin against my face as she pulled me in for one of her precious hugs. She had an abundant love, a way of looking at you in the soul without an ounce of judgement in her heart. She wrapped you up in her admiration and placed you in her lap where you belonged. She laughed and you laughed. A true activist, she had a voice that soared above the others within her various communities. As a shy and quiet little girl, I admired her boldness and I hoped that one day I would have the strength to love so loudly and with such ferocity.

How shocking it was then, to everyone I think, when a hemorrhagic stroke affected her brain stem. She was diagnosed with “locked-in syndrome”, a condition that stole her words and movement. Her intellect was preserved, leading to analogies of imprisonment to help us understand, with great sorrow, the nature of her circumstances. We all believed that we would hear her voice again, that she would be freed from this bodily betrayal. Now that her body has left us, we cannot help but think of the final release, the offer of escape for her most magnificent mind. We console ourselves with the thought that she is free now; the fighter of many causes can rest but we are all very busy remembering her greatness.

I think she is swimming a casual front stroke in her own sacred lake. I know that she is presenting speeches in a hall of infinite audience members, the perfect light casting an eternal glow on her radiant face. I hope that the things she believed in will gain life and momentum despite our having to say goodbye too soon.

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For a fascinating discussion of the brain, watch Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor’s story My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey. She is a a Harvard-trained neuroanatomist who experienced a catastrophic brain-stem stroke in 1996, leaving her unable to walk or talk. By 2008, she had a best-selling book to tell her story.

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