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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Death, Dying, Grief, and Mourning

in Western Literature


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George Eliot, Mill on the Floss, 1860

Book Seventh, Chapter V, Last Pages.

Death of Tom & Maggie

Death of Tom & Maggie

It was not until Tom had pushed off and they were on the wide water — he face to face with Maggie — that the full meaning of what had happened rushed upon his mind. It came with so overpowering a force — it was such a new revelation to his spirit, of the depths in life that had lain beyond his vision which he fancied so keen and clear — that he was unable to ask a question. They sat mutely gazing at each other: Maggie with intense life looking out from a weary, beaten face — Tom pale with a certain awe and humiliation. Thought was busy though lips were silent: and though he could ask no question, he guessed a story of almost miraculous divinely-protected effort. But at last a mist gathered over the blue-grey eyes, and the lips found a word they could utter: the old childish — Magsie.

Maggie could make no answer but a long deep sob of that mysterious wondrous happiness that is one with pain.

As soon as she could speak, she said, "We will go to Lucy, Tom: we’ll go see if she is safe, and then we can help the rest."

Tom rowed with untired vigour, and with a different speed from poor Maggie’s. The boat was soon in the current of the river again, and soon they would be at Tofton.

"Park House stands high up out of the flood," said Maggie. "Perhaps they have got Lucy there."

Nothing else was said; a new danger was being carried towards them by the river. Some wooden machinery had just given way on one of the wharves, and huge fragments were being floated along. The sun was rising now, and the wide area of watery desolation was spread out in dreadful clearness around them — in dreadful clearness floated onwards the hurrying, threatening masses. A large company in a boat that was working its way under the Tofton houses, observed their danger, and shouted, "Get out of the current!"

But that could not be done at once, and Tom, looking before him, saw death rushing on them. Huge fragments, clinging together in fatal fellowship, made one wide mass across the stream.

"It is coming, Maggie!" Tom said, in a deep hoarse voice, loosing the oars, and clasping her.

The next instant the boat was no longer seen upon the water — and the huge mass was hurrying on in hideous triumph.

But soon the keel of the boat reappeared, a black speck on the golden water.

The boat reappeared — but brother and sister had gone down in an embrace never to be parted: living through again in one supreme moment the days when they had clasped their little hands in love, and roamed the daisied fields together.


Nature repairs her ravages — repairs them with her sunshine, and with human labour. The desolation wrought by that flood, had left little visible trace on the face of the earth, five years after. The fifth autumn was rich in golden corn-stacks, rising in thick clusters among the distant hedgerows; the wharves and warehouses on the Floss were busy again, with echoes of eager voices, with hopeful lading and unlading.

And every man and woman mentioned in this history was still living — except those whose end we know.

Nature repairs her ravages — but not all. The uptorn trees are not rooted again; the parted hills are left scared: if there is a new growth, the trees are not the same as the old, and the hills underneath their green vesture bear marks of the past rending. To the eyes that have dwelt on the past, there is no thought of repair.

Dorlcote Mill was rebuilt. And Dorlcote churchyard, — where the brick grave that held the father whom we know, was found with the stone laid prostrate upon it after the flood, — had recovered all its grassy order and decent quiet.

Near that brick grave there was a tomb erected, very soon after the flood, for two bodies were found in close embrace; and it was visited at different moments by two men who both felt that their keenest joy and keenest sorrow were ever buried there.

One of them visited the tomb again with a sweet face beside him — but that was years after.

The other was always solitary. His great companionship was among the trees of Red Deeps, where the buried joy seemed still to hover — like a revisiting spirit.

The tomb bore the names of Tom and Maggie Tulliver, and below the names was written —

"In their death they were not divided."



Adrienne Nater, 2008

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