5.21.2010

slaying dragons

Forever-goneness. A glorious term coined by my young-woman grandmother to describe the end of day. Coined before she met her future husband, before she bore six children. Before her oldest child, her daughter Nancy, died. Run over by a car, dropped off from school and exiting the car on the street side. Before two of her other children, Jeffrey and Becky, died of illness in early childhood, one in a crib and the other in an institution. Before her husband died young, after a long illness, carrying around his oxygen tank, getting his kids to buy cigarettes for him. He died when their youngest child, my namesake, was still a teenager. I was only a baby and never knew him.

I never talked with my grandmother about Nancy or her other children. Or about her husband. Nor have I talked about them with my mother, or my aunt, or my uncle, or anyone. I have always wondered. I observed my grandmother as a pillar of strength and words and opinion. A strong woman, widowed, with a tragic story. I wondered what it could possibly be like to lose your child. To have your child stolen away in a fast flash of metal. To watch your child die, not able to save her. As a parent, that is the greatest fear. Forever-goneness.

Unbelievably, this week I learned that a long-time friend witnessed the death of his sister when he was a child. She was run over by a car, and he saw everything. I had no idea. And since my initial shock, I've been sitting with this, sitting with the child inside my friend. It's heavy. My friend, in his forties, still feeds dragons. Still chases ghosts. Forever-gone, but not gone. He chooses to bear the weight, he would not give it up. The weight is part of his joy and his identity. Remembering. She is not gone. Forever-with.

I had never considered the child witness. Did my uncle, the second-oldest, witness his sister's death? What about my mother? Three living children, and three gone. What do they remember? What ghosts might my mother still chase? Does she feed dragons? How about my aunt, the youngest, born years later? I've been hugging my kids extra-tight this week. Gazing at them extra-long, watching them together. Playing, laughing. Loving. Happy. What you want for children.

A poem by my grandmother, for those who feed dragons in the night:

     Star, bright star, above my tallest tree
     Telling me calmly that my work is done,
     Telling me peacefully to sit and watch the night,--
     Tell me, what will there be when day is done?

     Wind, cool wind, that through my tallest tree,
     Breathing the sweetness of a summer night,
     Breathing away the cares of a long, toilsome day,--
     Tell me--will there be soon an end of night?