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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Anne Bronte, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, 1848

 

Death of Arthur Huntington

Death of Arthur Huntington:

"My worst fears were realized — mortification has commenced. The doctor has told him there is not hope — no words can describe his anguish. I can write no more.

. . . . . . . . . . . .

The next was still more distressing in the tenor of its contents. The sufferer was fast approaching dissolution — dragged almost to the verge of that awful chasm he trembled to contemplate, from which no agony of prayers or tears could save him. Nothing could comfort him now: Hattersley’s rough attempts at consolation were utterly in vain. The world was nothing to him: life and all its interests, it petty cares and transient pleasures, were a cruel mockery. To talk of the past, was to torture him with vain remorse; to refer to the future, was to increase his anguish; and yet to be silent, was to leave him a prey to his own regrets and apprehensions. Often he dwelt with shuddering minuteness on the fate of his perishing clay — the slow, piecemeal dissolution already invading his frame; the shroud, the coffin, the dark, lonely grave, and all the horrors of corruption.

"If I try," said his afflicted wife, "to divert him from these things — to raise his thoughts to higher themes, it is no better: —‘Worse and worse!’ he groans. ‘If there be life beyond the tomb, and judgement after death, how can I face it?’ — I cannot do him any good; he will neither be enlightened, nor roused, nor comforted by anything I say; and yet he clings to me with unrelenting pertinacity — with a kind of childish desperation, as if I could save him from the fate he dreads. He keeps me night and day beside him. He is holding my left hand now, while I write; he has held it thus for hours: sometimes clutching my arm with violence — the big drops starting from his forehead, at the thoughts of what he sees, or thinks he sees before him. If I withdraw my hand for a moment, it distresses him —

" ‘ Stay with me Helen,’ he says; ‘let me hold you so; it seems as if harm could not reach me while you are here. But death will come — it is coming now — fast, fast! — and — Oh, if I could believe there was nothing after!’

" ‘ Don’t try to believe it, Arthur; there is joy and glory after, if you will but try to reach it!’

" ‘ What, for me?’ he said, with something like a laugh. ‘Are we not to be judged according to the deeds done in the body? Where’s the use of a probationary existence, if a man spend it as he pleases, just contrary to God’s decrees, and then go to heaven with the best — if the vilest sinner may win the reward of the holiest saint, my merely saying, "I repent’?

" ‘ But if you sincerely repent —.’

" ‘ I can’t repent; I only fear.’

" ‘ You only regret the past consequences to yourself?’

" ‘ Just so — except that I’m sorry to have wronged you, Nell, because you’re so good to me.’

" ‘ Think of the goodness of God, and you cannot be grieved to have offended Him.’

" ‘ What is God — I cannot see Him or Hear Him? God is only an idea.’

" ‘ God is Infinite Wisdom, and Power, and Goodness — and LOVE; but the idea is too vast for your human faculties — if your mind loses itself in its overwhelming infinitude, fix it on Him who condescended to take our nature upon Him, who was raised to heaven even in His glorified human body, in whom the fullness of the Godhead shines.’

" But he only shook his head and sighed. Then in another paroxysm of shuttering horror, he tightened his grasp on my hand and arm, and groaning and lamenting, still clung to me with that wild, desperate earnestness so harrowing to my soul, because I know I cannot help him.

" ‘ Death is so terrible,’ he cried, ‘I cannot bear it! You don’t know Helen — you can’t imagine what it is, because you haven’t it before you; and when I’m buried, you’ll return to your old ways and be as happy as ever, and all the world will just go on just as busy and merry as if I had never been’ while I ——.’He burst into tears.

" ‘You needn’t let that distress you,’ I said; ‘we shall all follow you soon enough.’

" ‘ I wish to God I could take you with me now!’ he exclaimed, ‘you should plead for me.’

" ‘ No man can deliver his brother, nor make agreement unto God for him,’ I replied: ‘ it cost more to redeem their souls — it cost the blood of an incarnate God, perfect and sinless in Himself, to redeem us from the bondage of the evil one: — let Him plead for you.’

" But I seem to speak in vain. He does not now, as formerly, laugh these blessed truths to scorn: but still he cannot trust, or will not comprehend them. He cannot linger long. He suffers dreadfully, and so do those who wait upon him — but I will not harass you with further details: I have said enough, I think, to convince you that I did well to go to him."

Poor, poor Helen! Dreadful indeed her trials must have been! And I could do nothing to lessen them — nay, it almost seemed as if I had brought them upon myself, by my own secret desires; and whether I looked at her husband’s sufferings or her own, it seemed almost like a judgment upon myself for having cherished such a wish.

The next day but one there came another letter. That too was put into my hand without a remark, and these are its contents —

 -  Dec. 5th 

"He is gone at last. I sat beside him all night, with my hand fast locked in his, watching the changes of his features and listening to his failing breath. He had been silent a long time, and I thought he would never speak again, when he murmured faintly but distinctly —

" ‘ Pray for me Helen!’

" ‘ I do pray for you — every hour and every minute, Arthur; but you must pray for yourself!’

" His lips moved, but emitted no sound; — then his looks became unsettled; and, from the incoherent half-uttered words that escaped him from time to time, supposing him to be now unconscious, I gently disengaged my hand from his, intending to steal away for a breath of air, for I was almost ready to faint; but a convulsive movement of his fingers, and a faintly whispered, ‘Don’t leave me!’ immediately recalled me: I took his hand again, and held it till he was no more — and then I fainted: it was not grief; it was exhaustion, that, until then, I had been enabled successfully to combat. Oh, Frederick! None can imagine the miseries, bodily and mental, of that death-bed! How could I endure to think that that poor trembling soul was hurried away to everlasting torment? It would drive me mad! But, thank God, I have hope — not only from a vague dependence on the possibility that penitence and pardon might have reached him at the last, but from the blessed confidence that, through whatever purging fires the erring spirit may be doomed to pass — whatever fate awaits it, still, it is not lost, and God, who hateth nothing that He hath made, will bless it in the end!

" His body will be consigned on Thursday to that dark grave he so much dreaded; but the coffin must be closed as soon as possible. If you will attend the funeral come quickly, for I need your help.

"Helen Huntingdon."

 

 
   
 

Adrienne Nater, 2008

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