Poetry Friday: Death is Nothing At All

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Bit of a sad one today in some ways – apparently this is popular at funerals (odd phrase) and that’s where I heard it too. If you don’t do well with sadness, then feel free to skip this one and come back next week, or read an earlier one again that’s more cheerful!
It’s been a little over a year since my grandma died, and her house is being sold today – which is the last thing, really, left ‘to do’. I don’t think tasks and jobs like that are given enough importance when we talk about grief. The focus tends to be on the immediate with the emphasis on the funeral as a marker and indication for the family to start to move on, a difficult task. I suppose historically that has been true; without many possessions or with clear-cut physical objects, passing them on is relatively straightforward. When there’s a lot of different accounts, different tasks, and the difficult job of selling a house, these things get a lot harder. As a grand-daughter rather than daughter, I haven’t had much to do with these decisions but some of them were made more difficult but the awkward processes and procedures that institutions make you go through at an already difficult time, and the inflexibility of many ‘customer service’ staff.
A strange time.

It’s odd, having to sort through things, decide what to keep if only in a cardboard box in the attic, what to distribute, what to donate to charity and how to deal with the sheer volume of things that people can collect over a lifetime, especially someone careful with things who doesn’t like to throw away what still has life left in it. you have to go through cupboards and drawers you’ve always known were there, and full, but would never dreamed have touching – they were private. We explored letters between my grandparents from when they were young, letters from them when they lived in Hong Kong home to their parents, all sorts of little bits and pieces which clearly had enough value to ensure they were kept for decades. It’s not the house that makes it difficult, so much as the items in it that are inescapably her. There’s a sense of guilt in some ways, sending to a charity shop things she obviously valued but which are, if you’re completely honest, something you would never buy for your own home – its value isn’t in its aesthetics for you but its proximity to her. There’s the realisation made solid that, for so many years, you simply weren’t a part of her life and it’s difficult to ever really know someone’s life when you weren’t a part of it. And then there’s also the fear that I you don’t take something to ‘remember her by’, then you might not. Terrifying, and difficult again. And nonsense. It’s not clocks or ornaments or hats or a photograph that will help you remember. It’s the impossibility of forgetting someone who made such an impression.

Anyway. I like this poem because I think it’s very comforting. Not particularly in a religious way, although as a Canon the writer (I assume!) obviously believed in a heaven. I read somewhere that this poem minimises the awfulness of death – and while death is awful, I don’t see anything wrong with trying to minimise the grief people experience and offer some comfort alongside a different way to look at it. I like this poem because it exemplifies a lot of the fears I have about death, which I think are fairly common. The fear that you can’t speak about the person because either you or the other person in the conversation will be upset. The fear of forgetting. The fear of nothingness, and of ceasing to exist.
But I find it incredibly reassuring – our memories are everything. We don’t forget, not really. We should remember our loved ones as if they have simply gone into another room, remember the conversations and jokes and friendship as we would anyone who is still with us. After all, most of us don’t see friends and family every day, and we still hold all these things close to us. We should talk about them in the same way, remember them joyously, and be grateful we loved them.

Death Is Nothing At All

Death is nothing at all
I have only slipped away into the next room
I am I and you are you
Whatever we were to each other
That we are still

Call me by my old familiar name
Speak to me in the easy way you always used
Put no difference into your tone
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow
Laugh as we always laughed
At the little jokes we always enjoyed together
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was
Let it be spoken without effort
Without the ghost of a shadow in it

Life means all that it ever meant
It is the same as it ever was
There is absolute unbroken continuity
What is death but a negligible accident?
Why should I be out of mind
Because I am out of sight?
I am waiting for you for an interval
Somewhere very near
Just around the corner

All is well.
Nothing is past; nothing is lost
One brief moment and all will be as it was before
How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!

Henry Scott-Holland

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3 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: Death is Nothing At All

  1. I found your blog through a random link, and I just wanted to comment on what you said about deaths and the objects they leave behind. I had a similar experience when I went through my mother’s house after her death and tried to take all of her books with me even though I only had one suitcase to bring them home in. Most of them were books I knew I probably wouldn’t even read, but for some odd reason I wanted to ‘rescue’ them from being passed on to someone who didn’t know her. I couldn’t, of course. But, while I do think that’s true the memories aren’t magically tied to objects, memories do seem to often require ‘hooks’ to retrieve them: scents, places, objects. It scares me to think that I have memories about her buried in my brain that I will never be able to find because I have, metaphorically-speaking, lost their address.

    That poem offers a nicer way of looking at it, though.

    • Thanks for the comment. I aree, objects are a hook for memories and it’s a really difficult time trying not to let that affect you too muh. I think theres sometimes a tendency to keep things because they were someones whereas as we all know from our own homes the cupboards are full of things we never give a second thought!
      I feel the same sometimes about memories but think they are there if we can find different ways to access them.
      Glad you enjoyed the poem.

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