Saturday, February 14, 2015


"When I was a child, I loved old people. My New Hampshire grandfather was my model human being. He wasn't old. He was in his sixties and early seventies when I hayed with him, only seventy-seven when he died, but of course I thought he was old. He was a one-horse farmer - Riley was his horse - with an old-fashioned multiple farm. He raised cattle and sheep and chickens, with hives for bees and a sugarhouse for boiling sap into maple syrup. He worked every day all year, mostly from five a.m. to seven or eight at night - milking, lambing, fencing, logging, spreading manure, planting, weeding, haying, harvesting, each night locking up chickens against foxes. Summers I helped with farm work and listened to him reminisce. All year he walked rapidly from one task to another, in his good nature smiling a private half smile as he remembered stories, or recited to himself the poems he had memorized for school.


After a life of loving the old, by natural law I turned old myself. Decades followed each other - thirty was terrifying, forty I never noticed because I was drunk, fifty was best with a total change of life, sixty began to extend the bliss of fifty - and then came my cancers, Jane's death, and over the years I traveled to another universe. However alert we are, however much we think we know what will happen, antiquity remains an unknown, unanticipated galaxy. It is alien, and old people are a separate form of life. They have green skin, with two heads that sprout antennae. They can be pleasant, they can be annoying - in the supermarket, these old ladies won't get out of my way - but most important they are permanently other. When we turn eighty, we understand that we are extraterrestrial. If we forget for a moment that we are old, we are reminded when we try to stand up, or when we encounter someone young, who appears to observe green skin, extra heads, and protuberances."

- from Essays After Eighty by Donald Hall (US Poet Laureate, 2006-2007)

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Seasons of Grief

It's amazing how cyclical life is, and how trenchantly we become ourselves.


It's been ten years since my grandfather died. We had been very close and his passing away was the first time in my life that somebody I loved had died. It made me realize how permanent death is. I also realize now that while we recognize a loved one by their physical features, it is the soul that we actually love. Washing his body for the burial, I felt like I was touching a stranger.


A few weeks ago, a man brought his child in to the clinic for me to see. He was a quiet little boy, nervous about being at the doctor's but also quick to smile. His father told me he was depressed. For the past several months he had been sad and crying easily. He would get irritable with his friends, or yell at his mother. The parents were distraught by this because he was usually such a delightful child. They told me all this had started shortly after his grandfather had passed away. They were buddies.

At the mention of his grandfather, the boy seemed to withdraw into himself. When I asked him what was making him sad, he said he missed his grandfather. The simplicity of the statement struck me. His grief was so obvious and clear to him. He was crying as he talked about his grandfather. I could feel the pain throb inside him. 

I told him about my grandfather, that he had died ten years ago and that I still missed him. He and my grandmother had loved me with an extravagance I didn't realize until they were gone. Although it's been many years, I still feel their presence with me, in the way I do things, the choices I make. I told the child that it was ok to feel sad but also that I wanted him to meet with a grief counselor. Sometimes we don't understand the ways in which we are sad until we actually talk about it. Looking up at his father, I saw that his eyes too were moist. We set up appointments with a therapist. I told Dad that I would be happy to help the child get better. 

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