Saturday, August 15, 2009

Bereavement

And on the Corcorans in our current read, this account of a bereaved mother rings more true than the account of Bunny's mother:

"A long time ago, I attended the funeral of a teenage boy who died the way Wade Edwards [John and Elizabeth's son -- RD] did, in a car that flipped badly and killed him quickly. I remember standing at the burial site, under a hot Los Angeles sun, a large crowd of us waiting for the parents to arrive. The cortege turned in through the gates, snaked up the winding road, and pulled up to where we were gathered. For a long time nothing happened, the car doors all stayed closed, and you realized--in a misery of embarrassed voyeurism that occluded even the sadness--that a drama was going on inside the car containing the mother, that getting her to stand out in the sunshine with us was going to involve someone persuading her to allow her son to be dead.

At last the car doors opened, and you felt you should look away, but that wasn't right either, and so you watched, and it was a bad thing. At first, the procession faltered forward. The family made it down to the graveside, and a rabbi spoke. The pine box was lowered into the ground and the time came for the boy's brother to spade the first shovel of dirt onto the coffin, and that's when things fell apart. I'd known the boy well--he had been a student at the school where I taught English--but I hadn't loved him. In fact, I had never loved anyone yet, because I was years away from having a child of my own, and until you've done that you're just guessing about love, gesturing toward it, assuming that it's the right name for a feeling you've had.

Things fell apart when they tried to spade in the earth, and there was screaming and titanic grief, and you were in the position of watching someone being forced--physically forced--to bear the unbearable. At last it was done, and the family stumbled back up the hill to the air-conditioned cars with the liveried drivers, and the mother collapsed into one car, and the door was shut solidly behind her, sealing her into her shadowed madness. "

"Shadowed madness" - yup. This is the real reaction to death, rather than that offered as the Corcorans'. It's the difference between badly-imagined fiction (possibly because the author at this stage in her life had no experience of bereavement) and the bottomlessly awful real thing.

(This account is drawn from an article by Caitlin Flanagan, via Rod Dreher's blog.)

1 comment:

Emily said...

This reminds me of a family we knew when we lived up north. One of the sons of a large family hung himself in the basement the summer before we moved away. I took the family a meal several days after his death, just before the funeral, and the mother was in pieces. She could barely stand. All of these people were milling around the house - the kids, cousins, friends, people wanting to help - while one minute the mother was wailing and the next she was hugging everyone and thanking them and telling how she meant to do and say all these things that would have prevented her son's death. I think she was on some kind of drug. The next summer we came back for visit and that weekend the mother overdosed. Her note said since she couldn't save her son, she wanted to be with him. Not long after we heard about the accident where the Catholic writer ran over her son. I had nightmares for weeks. Potential tragedy everywhere.