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?

15 comments:

  1. what a strong woman your grandmother must have been, to have endured all of that sadness.
    thank you for sharing. i love that expression...forever-goneness. it's perfect.

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  2. I'm reading an amazing book right now with a chapter about the relationship of two siblings, one with autism and the other without, who are separated by adoption. It's called _Reasonable People: A Memoir of Autism & Adoption_. Your post made me think of this chapter - how the sister is witness to the brother's abandonment by their parents, and what the heartbreaking consequences are for both of them.

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  3. Yoshi, that is heartbreaking.

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  4. What a beautiful and sad introduction to your blog. What a strong and wise woman your grandmother was.

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  5. This blog made me really sad in a deep thoughtful way. Thanks for sharing it so eloquently.

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  6. Oh, Marian, this brought tears to my eyes. I'm going to go watch my daughter sleep now.

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  7. I loved "forever gone," but now I also love, "forever with."

    Because for everything that is gone, for all that has passed, for all the deaths and damage and pain? For all the endings?

    There is always someone still. Still living, still breathing, still remembering, still holding on . . . forever.

    Sigh.

    Just beautiful.

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  8. thank you.

    i love my grandmother's poem. tell me, will there soon be an end of night?

    tomorrow is her birthday, so be sure to watch this space.

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  9. My heart is bursting after reading this with bittersweet tears remembering Gram's amazing words she so effortlessly expressed through her writing talent as well as her pain in the tragedies that we never really discussed with her when she was with us. Thank you, Cuz, for sharing and keeping our lovely memories of her alive, she would be so proud! ♥

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  10. Wow.

    I'm short of breath here.

    There is too much in common, but continents apart.

    My grandmother lost 4 of her 8 children, her husband was murdered, and somehow, she survived?

    I think her words saved her.

    I have her notebooks, of poems.

    Still, how does one survive? And still have enough love to give to a broken little girl?

    As I said in the beginning of my comment, makes me short of breath.

    It is one of life's blessed surprises, to find you.

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  11. Alexandra.
    now it is my turn to catch my breath.
    we are coming closer, across space and time, here.
    just wow.

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