Death, Dying, Grief and Mourning

            "Death is always the same,
                               but each man dies in his own way."

Carson McCullers, Clock Without Hands, 1960


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in Western Literature

An Anthology by  Adrienne Nater

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Death, Dying, Grief, and Mourning

in Western Literature


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Jennifer Lash, Blood Ties,  1997


Death of Birkin

Death of Birkin:

If Violet and Cecil Farr ever thought of their son in England, it was never made apparent to anyone, least of all to each other. Life went on the same: produce for the Claggan market, farm decisions, upkeep, maintenance, local committees, local decisions, Cecil had developed problems of wind and acid stomach, and as his gums shrunk his ill-fitting dentures became an increasing liability. Birkin was dead. Violet found him on the south side of Mount Murna, still, yet with his black coat still soft from dew, little beads of bright water glistened on the stark lengths of hair; the stomach was distended, the eyes were open, but glazed, opaque, utterly empty of Birkin, and yet there was in their very emptiness some kind of reference to the great, lost spirit of his loyal being. The huge head was dropped down into a little dish of ground, just as it might have lain in Violet’s lap. She did not weep. Sorrow such as this had no external means of expression in the battened down, fierce fortress of meshed, banished feelings that was the resolute, guarded structure of herself. She simply stayed there with him until well after dark. She stayed until the cold wind and heavy dew gave her some intensity of bodily feeling; sufficient discomfort, stillness and bitter cold for her to know this death, this cruel desertion, deep inside herself. She stayed and stared until the dark made the mound-shape of the dog simply a shadow at her feet similar to the outcrop rock and other smooth side of stone on the mountain. Without Birkin, Violet was deserted; she was truly alone. But for the rest of her life, she would see him, hear him, smell him. There was no path, no root, no open space of ground where she did not remember his boundless loyalty and eager pleasure, she saw his dark shape under the piano in the library, at the end of her bed, and by the fire in the parlour.
Donal dug a grave for Birkin at the edge of the wood, high above the house, and together Donal and Violet wrapped him in fresh sacks from the red barn and then they laid him carefully into the moist earth. Later Violet had a headstone carved from a rough slab of stone that was found in the rubble, from one of the fallen cottages on the estate. It simply said BIRKIN and then the dates. Violet did not want any known quotation, that might suggest to other people, at another time, that they might know and understand her sorrow and her relationship to this particular animal. It was not simply a great dog beloved by his mistress. It was more than that, it was passion and trust; it was an alchemy of need, animal trust and human frailty made whole in a single, celebratory strength.



Adrienne Nater, 2008

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