In a word . . . November

It may be a function of growing older – but as time goes by death does lose its sting

 

Because I could not stop for Death – He kindly stopped for me – The Carriage held but just Ourselves – And Immortality.

Even in a youth squeamish about death I liked that poem by Emily Dickinson. Its chirpy, clip-clop rhythm seemed so at odds with the subject.

We passed the School, where Children strove/At Recess – in the Ring – We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain – We passed the Setting Sun – Or rather – He passed Us.

It may be a function of growing older, but as time goes by death does lose its sting. Whether that be due to familiarity with graveyards through attendance at more funerals or just sanguine acceptance of the natural order of things, it is hard to be clear. And, really, it doesn’t matter.

It is what it is and will be, whether we go gentle or not.

Having been at my brother’s bedside last year as he breathed his last after a bitter struggle with cancer was to realise how natural are those final moments, as breathing grows shallow with a declining ease as gentle as an Emily Dickinson poem. It was to realise that dying can be easy too and that there are worse things. Such as prolonged, unbearable pain.

Last month our band of college friends met to bury the kind and decent husband of one of our number in a beautiful place overlooking the Clare shore. There too we remembered those others gone from us in recent years and now among the dead, though still vibrant in memory.

At every funeral we remember them and then go on bearing their growing number with us. Saddened, yes, but not burdened by loss or thought of our own pending destination. Because we will not pause for death.

Or allow it clog our fleeing years where now every November flows into another seeming to skip those sibling months in between.

My late father had it right, if bluntly so. A great man for funerals, he was at yet another when he met an old sparring partner in the graveyard. They had many verbal tussles down the years.

He asked him what his age was. “85, McGarry”, was the jaunty reply. My father responded: “Sure, it’s not worth your while going home.”

November from Old French novembre and Latin November – from novem for nine. It being the ninth month of the Roman calendar.

inaword@irishtimes.com

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