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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Conrad Richter, The Town, 1950

The Final Book in the Trilogy:    .
The Trees, The Fields, The Town

Death of Mother/ Sayward

Death of Mother/ Sayward:

Hardship and work, that’s what his mother always harped on. Once when at home he had refused to work on the lot, she had said, "You’re going to live longer than I do, Chancey. Watch for all kinds of new-fangled notions to take away folks’ troubles without their having to work. That’s what folks today want and that’s what will ruin them more than anything else." Could there be something after all in this hardship-and-work business, he pondered. He had thought hardship and work were symptoms of a pioneer era, things of the past. He believed that his generation had outlived and outlawed them, was creating a new life of comfort, ease and peace. And yet war, the cruelest hardship of all, war between brothers, was on them today like a madness. Did it mean that the need for strength and toughness was to be always with them; that the farther they advanced, the more terrible would be the hardship that descended upon them, and the more crying the need of hardihood to be saved?

He had always felt a little scorn for those who came to ask his mother’s opinion, especially grown men and women. Even his father used to do it. But now there were just one or two questions he wished he could put to her, not that he would accept her answers as infallible or sage, no matter how matriarchal and wise she looked lying there.

"Mama!" he spoke to her aloud.

She paid him no attention. He had half expected it and yet at the experience an incredulous stunned emotion crept over him. Why, he was her favorite, her pet, they all claimed. Massey had written him once that if he only came home, it would make his mother well just to see him. Now here he was by her bed and she took no more notice of him than a chair.

"Her mind’s on another world," Manda said piously.

Standing there, Chancey observed that his mother’s eyes continued to hang on some point off to the right beyond the foot of her bed. He followed their gaze. All he could make out was the narrow bar of light from the window where it had been opened perhaps a foot and the shade lowered save for the same distance.

"It’s the trees," Manda told him. "We moved her bed when she first took sick. She wanted to see the trees."  

Again the strange feeling ran over Chancey. Why, she had always claimed how as a girl and young woman she had hated the trees. He remembered a dozen stories of her abhorrence and bitter enmity for what she called "the big butts." And yet now all she lived for was the sight and sound of those green leaves moving outside her window. Was there something deeper and more mysterious in his mother’s philosophy than he and his generation who knew so much had suspected; something not simple but complex; something which held not only that hardship built happiness but which somehow implied that hate built love; and evil, goodness?

He bent closer to her. Something in him flinched at her face shriveled as a mummy’s, at the ancient brown skin marked with great purplish liver blotches. Were those blotches like her faults, he wondered, part of his mother’s strength, like roughness and hardness is part of an oak, and if you take them out, you destroy the strength also?

"Mama!" he called louder.

There was no quiver of the eyelids. His mother only lay there, silent and oblivious as in the majesty of death. He knew now that she would never answer him again, that from this time on he would have to ponder his own questions and travel his own way.




Adrienne Nater, 2008

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