Life Goes On

Several years after my oldest sister died, I wrote a poem that recalled the experience of pouring her ashes into the Gulf of Mexico as she wished. One stanza of the poem is as follows:

The gentleness of the water was unwelcome,
waves should have pounded the sand,
wind should have shrieked in rebellion.

The stillness of the water, in light of the remnants of the vivacious life being shared with it, showed wanton disregard for the loss of a beautiful human life. I hated Nature’s emotionless acceptance of an event so consequential.

In the more than month and a half since my wife died, the hole left in the world she shared with me seems to be filling. Life must go on, and so it does. Even my life, as shattered as it felt and still feels, is adjusting to her absence. But I do not want the lives of anyone who knew her to ever be the same. I want everyone to feel an unending emptiness wherever her presence once was felt. She must never be forgotten. Thoughts of her must forever be accompanied by reverence.

I feel a searing guilt that the searing pain is beginning to ease, if only a little at a time. It is not fair or right or acceptable that life should go on; that it should continue as if her death was a momentary interruption that can be overcome.

But these very same feelings must have been felt billions and billions of times.  A generation or two or three after a person’s death, sometimes much sooner, evidence of that person’s existence is effectively gone. If a person does not leave children, the legacy turns to vapor within weeks or months or, at most, a few years. Headstones represent attempts to slow the decay of remembrance. But even headstones crumble over time from exposure to the elements.

The meaning of almost every life is chained to time. Over time, the links in the chain corrode into broken pieces. Eventually, the chain merges with the Earth, completing another phase of the cycle. That happens long after the meaning of the link that was chained to it has been abandoned by time. Time loses patience with the process of degradation; it moves on to current events and lives that also will matter only briefly and for only a small sphere of related lives that eventually will dissolve into eternity, too.

No matter how strong the argument that “life goes on,” it can never again seem fair or just when a beautiful life disappears; when the lives left behind get back to business as usual.

If and when COVID-19 subsides enough to allow us to gather again, I will arrange for a celebration of my wife’s life. Somehow, some way, the hole in the world left by her death will be recognized. I will not allow her loss to simply heal. The scar always will be visible. Even as life goes on.



About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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