Then one Mother’s Day, a fatal stroke, and in days her husband was gone. I have borrowed part of a line from W.H. Auden’s poem, “Funeral Blues” quoted in the movie, Four Weddings and a Funeral.
I imagine the poem is used often. The same way people reach for commercial sympathy cards. Let someone else find the difficult words. I do know words fail me when confronted with acknowledging someone’s death.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.
Above in my title, I substituted Auden’s “me” for “He.” While reading A Balanced Life, a memoir by Patricia Schultheis, I remembered Auden’s poem. Last week I mentioned the SMK creative nonfiction essay, “The Country Where I Live.” The combination of the Franz Kafka quote, the memoir, the narrative essay, led me to feel the “Guilty Blues.” Why? Not easy to explain in a page of prose.
Simply stated, I believe that countless friendships have ruptured because of Donald Trump. And this rupture relates to something I find vexing in our culture. Maybe I say this after living in a country where there was no separation of religion and state. I do know I feel annoyed if someone in the USA tells me their religion and politics are no one else’s business. I respect anyone reciting, “I believe in God the Father Almighty,” with its declarative first person. But what about, “We the People?” I think the plural suggests openness about political beliefs, not a scrupulous and earnest piety of “no one else’s business.”
My friend, the widow, and I parted because of this. I had no problem that she was Republican, but hopefully like those who declared themselves Lincoln Republicans. I could not accept she would not disavow Donald Trump. She stuck to the “I” and no ‘one else’s business’ creed, and I to my plural, “We the People.” This is to say fixed ideas supplanted feelings. Which means I did not feel the painful loss of her husband, a man my husband very much enjoyed seeing.
For over a decade I was in a group of six writers. One member was already a widow, two more would become widows. Then this woman’s husband suffered a fatal stroke. Earlier the Pandemic had brought an end to the group. Almost everything she shared with us had a married couple as the subject. We often suggested she bind her creative and humorous stories into a book on marriage.
My point is this. It was only when I finished reading A Balanced Life that I felt my friend’s loss, instead of my own grievance. In other words, Patricia’s book was an axe for a frozen sea, in which no waves had washed me into an acute awareness of this former friend finding herself in the Country of Grief, and how that felt as a new reality.
What to do? I am going to ask if she will meet me for coffee downtown one day. And if this happens, I will take with me A Balanced Life and offer the memoir to her. I will also take along a photocopy of Patricia’s masterful narrative, “In the Meantime” which is about mortality and creativity. The one a certainty. The other always an open possibility…
Next week: Playing with hodgepodge and exploring this word in multiple dictionaries.