Thursday, March 29, 2018

"Condolences Post Mortem" by Howard Stein

Condolences Post Mortem 
Howard Stein  
"Extinguish" Watercolor on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon

Dad died at 94, after a fall, 
A broken pelvis, and a short illness.
Job's advisors streamed by
The grieving family--
"He looks so good in the open casket";
"He lived to a ripe old age";
"Be grateful you had him so long";
"He lived a full life right to the end";
"He's in a better place now";
"He's no longer suffering."
Such well-intentioned reassurances
Did not reassure us--
Though they might have reassured
The ones who were speaking.
I was a screen for their platitudes.
We were not greedy with Dad's life;
It's just that there is never enough time.
Dying is still living, alive,
Here in this place.
Death is the slamming of a heavy door
In the face. Then you hear
The lock close behind the door.
There is no undoing that cavernous crash.
I found myself comforting Job's comforters
That their words were adequate to the task.
I could not bring myself to tell them
They had only made the void more terrible.

Poet's Notes:  This poem is an amalgam of personal experiences and of several decades of experiences with physicians, patients, and families as I worked as a medical educator in university healthcare settings. The poem is about how friends, co-workers, fellow members of houses of worship and other settings often speak with family members of a recently deceased person.

For instance, at a funeral home visitation, at the funeral, or at the cemetery, people with the best of intentions will offer up-beat clichés in an effort to lessen the depth of grief for the family--if not also for themselves. Instead of "standing in the other person's shoes," they will inadvertently impose their awkwardness and denial on the family. The result for the survivors is often feeling worse rather than comforted. As I wrote the poem, I thought of the biblical book of Job and of parallels between my own experiences and Job's.

Editor’s Note:  How awful and difficult must it be for Howard and his loved ones to accept the death of Howard’s father no matter his age, after a fall that presumably might have been prevented.  Pointless, ignoble, ironic, and depressing are words that come to mind.  A bitter loss.  Such a bitter loss.

Howard’s poem captures a universal sentiment about how people sometimes cope with death, and I published it for that reason.  Howard appears silent on the offering of solutions to the problems of presenting the bereaved with platitudes.  However, I read his silence on that subject as the between-the-lines answer--silence, a handshake, a hug, just being there is what is wanted. 

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