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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An Anthology by  Adrienne Nater

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Death, Dying, Grief, and Mourning

in Western Literature


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Feodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment, 1867

Death of Marmeladov

Feodor Dostoevsky, Crime & Punishment 1867
                            Translation by Prestuplenie I. Nakazanie

Death, Murder of
Alena Ivanovna & Lizaveta:
The Pawnbroker & Her Sister

Feodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment, 1867

Death of Lizaveta

Feodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment, 1867

Death of Marmeladov:

…At that same moment the dying man recovered consciousness and groaned, she hurried to him. He opened his eyes and they rested, without recognition or understanding on the figure of Raskolnikov standing close to him. He was drawing deep, laboured breaths at long intervals; blood trickled from the corners of his mouth; drops of sweat stood on his forehead. He did not know Raskolnikov, and his eyes began to wander uneasily. Katerina Ivanovna’s look was stern and sad, and tears were flowing from her eyes.

"Oh God, his whole chest is crushed in! Look at the blood, the blood!" She said in despair. "We must take off all his outer things! Turn yourself a little, Semen Zakharovich, if you can," she cried to him.

Marmeladov recognized her,

"A priest!" he murmured hoarsely.

Katerina Ivanovna walked away to the window and leaned her forehead against the frame, exclaiming in desperation:

"Oh, accursed life!"

"A priest!" said the dying man again, after a moment of silence.

"They’ve go-o-one!" shrieked Katerina Ivanovna; he heard the clamour and was silent. His timid anxious glance sought her out; she returned to his side and stood by his pillow. He seemed a little calmer, but not for long. Soon his eyes fell on little Lida (his favourite), who stood in the corner shivering as though with fever and watching him with her wondering eyes childishly intent.

"But…but…" he indicated her uneasily. He was trying to say something.

"What is it this time?" cried Katerina Ivanovna.

"Bare-footed! Bare-footed!" he murmured, with his half-conscious eyes fixed on the little girl’s bare legs and feet.

"Be quiet!" exclaimed Katerina Ivanovna irritable. "You know why she goes barefoot!"

"Thank God, the doctor!" exclaimed Raskolnikov, overjoyed.

The doctor, a neat little old man, a German, came in looking about him with an air of mistrust; he went up to the injured man, felt his pulse, carefully touched his head, and with Katerina Ivanovna’s help, unbuttoned his blood-soaked shirt and laid bare his chest. It was all crushed, trampled, and lacerated; several ribs on the right side were broken. On the left, immediately over the heart, was a great yellowish-black mark, left by the cruel blow of a hoof. The doctor frowned. The policeman explained that the unfortunate man had been caught by the wheels and dragged along the roadway for some thirty yards.

"It is surprising that he ever recovered consciousness at all," whispered the doctor softly to Raskolnikov.

"What is your opinion?" asked he.

"He is dying now."

"Is there really no hope?"

"None at all! He is on the point of death …the head is very badly injured, too … Hm. Perhaps I might let some blood … but …it will do no good. He will certainly be dead in five or ten minutes."

"But surely you ought at least to try it?"

"Perhaps so . . . However, I warn you it will be quite useless."

Now steps were heard approaching again, the crowd in the entrance parted, and the priest, a little old man with grey hair, appeared on the threshold carrying the sacrament. A policeman had gone for him from the scene of the accident. The doctor immediately made way for him, exchanging a significant glance with him as he did so. Raskolnikov begged the doctor to stay, if only for a short time. He shrugged his shoulders and remained.

They all stood aside. The dying man’s confession was very short and it is doubtful if he had any clear idea of what was happening; he was capable of uttering only vague broken sounds. Katerina Ivanovna took Lidochka, lifted the little boy from the chair, knelt down in the corner by the stove and made the children kneel in front of her. The little girl only shivered; but the boy, on his bare knees, raised his hand, crossed himself, and bowed to the ground, knocking his forehead on the floor, a process which seemed to afford him great satisfaction. Katerina Ivanovna was biting her lips to keep back the tears; she was also praying; occasionally she straightened the little boy’s shirt, and once, without rising from her knees or ceasing her prayers, she managed to take a shawl from the chest of drawers and throw it around the little girl’s shoulders, which were almost bare. Meanwhile the door from the inner rooms began to open again under the pressure of the curious, and in the little lobby the onlookers were crowding thicker and thicker, from every flat on the staircase; but they did not cross the threshold of the room. A single candle lighted the scene.

At this moment Polenka, who had been for her sister, hurriedly pushed through the crowd in the entrance. She came in, out of breath with running, took off her kerchief, looked round for her mother, went to her and said: "She is coming! I met her in the street." Her mother made her kneel down next to her. Out of the crowd, noiselessly and timidly, appeared a young girl, and her sudden appearance was strange in that room, in the midst of poverty, rags, death, and despair. Her own clothes were ragged enough, but her tuppenny-ha’penny finery, in the taste and style of her special world of the streets, testified clearly and shamelessly to the purpose for which it had been chosen.

Sonya stopped in the lobby, near the door, without crossing the threshold of the room, utterly forlorn and apparently unconscious of her surroundings; she seemed forgetful alike of her garish fourth-hand silk dress, indecently out of place here with its ridiculous long train and immense crinoline blocking the whole doorway, of her light-coloured boots, of the sunshade she carried with her, although it was useless at night, and of her absurd little round straw hat with its bright flame-coloured feather. From under this hat, worn with a boyish tilt to one side, looked out a thin, pale, frightened little face; the mouth hung open and the eyes stared in terrified fixity. Sonya was small, about eighteen years old, thin but quite pretty, with fair hair and remarkable blue eyes. She kept them fixed on the bed and the priest; she was breathless with the speed of her arrival. At length the whispering among the crowd, or some of the words said, seemed to reach her ears; she cast down her eyes, took a step across the threshold and stood inside the room, but still very near the door.

The confession had been made and the sacrament administered, Katerina Ivanovna again approached her husband’s bed. The priest moved away, but turned before he left to say a word of exhortation and solace to Katerina Ivanovna.

"And what shall I do with these?" she interrupted sharply and irritably, indicating the little ones.

"God is merciful. Put your trust in the help of the Most High," began the priest.

"Ah! Merciful, but not to us!"

"That is sinful, wicked!" he remarked, shaking his head.

"And what is this!" exclaimed Katerina Ivanovna, pointing to her husband.

"It may be that those who were the involuntary cause of your distress will be willing to compensate you, if only for the loss of income…"

"You do not understand me!" irritably exclaimed Katerina Ivanovna, waving her arms. "Why should there be any compensations? He was drunk and he crawled under the feet of the horse himself! And what income? All I ever had from him was the suffering. He was a drunkard and threw everything we had in drink! He robbed us and took the money to the public house; he spent their lives and mine in the public house! Thank God he is dying! Our loss will be less!"

"You must forgive in the hour of death. This is sinful, madam; such sentiments are a grievous sin!"

Katerina Ivanovna was busying herself over the injured man, giving him something to drink, wiping the sweat and blood from his face, straightening his pillow, and only occasionally finding time for a word to the priest in the midst of her activities. Now she turned to him, almost beside herself.

"Oh Lord! Those are only words, nothing but words! Forgive! Today, if he had not been run over, he would have come home drunk, with his only shirt dirty and ragged, and gone to bed to sleep like a log, while I splashed about in water till the dawn, washing out his old clothes and the children’s and drying them out of the window, and as soon as it was light I should have had to sit down and mend them — that is how my night would have been spent . . . So why talk of forgiveness? I have forgiven him!"

The priest bowed his head and said nothing.

Marmeladov was in the last agony; he did not move his eyes from Katerina Ivanovna’s face, bent over him once more. He kept trying to say something to her; moving his tongue with enormous effort, he even managed to utter some inarticulate words, but Katerina Ivanovna, understanding that he wanted to ask her forgiveness, immediately exclaimed peremptorily:

‘Quiet! Don’t! . . .I know what you want to say!’ The dying man was silent; but then his wandering glance fell on the floor, and he saw Sonya.

Until that instant he had not noticed her; she stood in the shadowy corner.

"Who is that? Who is it?’ he asked suddenly in a hoarse panting voice, full of agitation, with his alarmed gaze directed to the door, where his daughter was standing. He even tried to raise himself.

‘Lie down! Lie down!’ exclaimed Katerina Ivanovna.

But with unnatural strength he managed to prop himself on his arm. His wild unmoving gaze remained fixed for some time on his daughter; he had never before seen her in such a costume. Suddenly he did recognize her, humiliated, crushed, ashamed in her gaudy finery, submissively waiting her turn to take leave of her dying father. Infinite suffering showed in his face.

"Sonya! Daughter! Forgive me!" He cried, and tried to stretch out his hand towards her, but without its support he fell and crashed down headlong from the sofa; they rushed to lift him up, and laid him down again, but he was going. Sonya uttered a feeble cry, ran forward, put her arms around him, and almost swooned in that embrace. He died in her arms.

"He brought his fate upon himself!" Cried Katerina Ivanovna, when she saw her husband’s corpse. "And what shall I do now? How am I to bury him? And how shall I feed them, tomorrow?"

Raskolnikov went up to her.

Feodor Dostoevsky, Crime & Punishment 1867

Translation by Prestuplenie I. Nakazanie

Death, Murder of Alena Ivanovna & Lizaveta: The Pawnbroker & Her Sister:

"It doesn’t feel like silver. Lord, what a knot!" Trying to undo the string she turned towards the window (all her windows were closed, in spite of the oppressive heat), moved away from him and stood with her back to him. He unbuttoned his coat and freed the axe from the loop, but still kept it concealed, supporting it with his right hand under the garment. His arms seemed to have no strength in them; he felt them growing more and more numb and stiff with every moment. He was afraid of letting the axe slip and fall…His head was whirling.

"Why is it all wrapped up like this?" exclaimed the woman sharply, and turned towards him.

There was not a moment to lose. He pulled the axe out, swung it up with both hands, hardly conscious of what he was doing, and almost mechanically, without putting any force behind it, let the butt-end fall on her head. His strength seemed to have deserted him, but as soon as the axe descended it all returned to him.

The old woman was, as usual, bareheaded. Her thin fair hair, just turning grey, and thick with grease, was plaited into a rat’s tail and fastened into a knot above her nape with a fragment of horn comb. Because she was so short the axe struck her full on the crown of the head. She cried out, but very feebly, and sank in a heap to the floor, still with enough strength left to raise both hands to her head. One of them still held the ‘pledge’. Then he struck her again and yet again, with all his strength, always with the blunt side of the axe, and always on the crown of the head. Blood poured out as if from an overturned glass and the body toppled over on its back. He stepped away as it fell, and then stooped to see the face: she was dead. Her wide-open eyes looked ready to start out of their sockets, her forehead was wrinkled and her whole face convulsively distorted.

He laid the axe on the floor near the body and, taking care not to smear himself with blood, felt in her pockets, the right-hand pocket, from which she had taken her keys last time. He was quite collected, his faculties were no longer clouded nor his head swimming, but his hands still shook.

… A footstep sounded in the room where the old woman lay. He stopped and remained motionless as the dead. But all was still; he must have imagined it. Then he distinctly heard a faint cry, or perhaps rather a feeble interrupted groaning, then dead silence again for a minute or two. He waited, crouching by the trunk, hardly daring to breathe; then he sprang up, seized the axe, and ran out of the room.

Death of Lizaveta:

There in the middle of the floor, with a big bundle in her arms, stood Lizaveta, as white as a sheet, gazing in frozen horror at her murdered sister and apparently without the strength to cry out. When she saw him run in, she trembled like a leaf and her face twitched spasmodically; she raised her hand as if to cover her mouth, but no scream came and she backed slowly away from him towards the corner, with her eyes on him in a fixed stare, but still without a sound, as though she had no breath left to cry out. He flung himself forward with the axe, her lips writhed pitifully, like those of a young child when it is just beginning to be frightened and stands ready to scream, with its eyes fix on the object of its fear. The wretched Lizaveta was so simple, brow-beaten, and utterly terrified that she did not even put up her arms to protect her face, natural and almost inevitable as the gesture would have been at this moment when the axe was brandished immediately above it, She only raised her free left hand a little and slowly stretched it out towards him as though she were trying to push him away. The blow fell on her skull, splitting it open from the top of the forehead almost to the crown of the head, and felling her instantly. Raskolnikov, completely beside himself, snatched up her bundle, threw it down again, and ran to the entrance.

The terror that possessed him had been growing greater and greater, especially after this second, unpremeditated murder. He wanted to get away as quickly as possible. If he had been a condition to exercise soberer judgement and see things more clearly, if he could only have recognized all the difficulty of his position and how desperate, hideous, and absurd it was, if he could have understood how many obstacles to surmount, perhaps even crimes to commit, still lay before him, before he could escape from the house and reach home — very probably he would have abandoned everything and given himself up, not out of fear for himself so much as from horror and repulsion for what he had done. Repulsion, indeed, was growing in his heart with every moment. Not for anything in the world would he have returned to the trunk, or even to the room.

But a growing distraction, that almost amounted to absentmindedness, had taken possession of him; at times he seemed to forget what he was doing, or rather to forget the important things and cling to trivialities. However, when he glanced into the kitchen and saw a pail full of water on a bench, it gave him the idea of washing his hand and the axe. His hands were sticky with blood. He put the head of the axe in the water, then took a piece of soap that lay in a broken saucer on the window-sill, and began to wash his hand in the pail. When he had washed them he drew out the axe and washed the blade and then spent some three minutes trying to clean the part of the handle that was blood-stained, using soap to get the blood out. After this he wiped it with a cloth which was drying on a line stretched across the kitchen, and then spent a long time examining it carefully at the window.

There were no stains left, but the handle was still damp. With great care he laid the axe in the loop under his coat. Then, as well as the dim light in the kitchen allowed, he examined his overcoat, trousers, and boots. At first glance there was nothing to give him away, except for some stains on his boots. He wiped them with a damp rag. He knew, however, that he had not been able to see very well, and might have failed to notice something quite conspicuous. He stood hesitating in the middle of the room. A dark and tormenting idea was beginning to rear its head, the idea that he was going out of his mind and that he was not capable of reasoning or protecting himself, Perhaps what he was doing was not at all what ought to be done…"My God, I must run, I must run!" he muttered and hurried back to the entrance. Here there awaited him a more extreme terror than any he had yet to experience.


Adrienne Nater, 2008

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