Monday, 27 May 2013
Happy Birthday Barbara.
Can I still say that?
You would be 65 years old today if you'd lived. The night you died, quite by coincidence, I had taken your old address out of my Amazon account. It was there because I bought you a kitchen bin once ( ha! Long story) but you'd moved since so it seemed pointless keeping it. I thought I'd maybe email you to ask you for your new address, imagining that it would be cool to surprise you with a bunch of flowers for your next birthday.
And then, just before shutting down for the night, I checked my Google Reader. And I learned that you had gone.
At first I was confused. Your new post said " In Memory of Barbara Curtis". I hadn't seen the posts informing readers that you'd been taken ill and wondered, hoped, that this latest post was perhaps some waggish post by you, contemplating your own mortality or something. Or something.
I shouted then, I can't remember what, maybe it was just "No!". But I didn't cry.
I got up, turned off the computer, got into bed and just lay there in the dark saying "Barbara is gone" Over and over again. After a while I tried to pray, but the same three words kept intruding into my prayer. "Barbara is gone".
In the morning those three words were still playing a loop in my head and I went to check your blog again, hoping that there had been some horrible mistake.
I didn't cry until then. And I'm crying now thinking about you, and all that you did for me and how many chances I missed to show you how much you meant to me. I was sure we'd meet someday. I hoped you might even travel to London and I could take you and Tripp on a tour of my city.
I was pretty sure you'd live into your nineties, still mentoring young mums, railing against political iniquities and grabbing life by the tail when you were a great great grandma of many.
You were simply too big, too busy and too full of life to die at 64.
You know what you did for me. I can't share it all here. It's too sad and sore to rake over that period. But when I was in a pit of despair and shame you were like a gentle mother to me. A tough talking, no nonsense woman who could cut the feet from under the proud and the mean, you had a heart that was as soft as butter for the broken, to whom you were the tenderest nurse.
You knew what it felt like to sorrow over your sin. You'd been there yourself and with incredible honesty and generosity had shared your mistakes and messes with your readers in hopes that we could learn from you.
You mentored so many mothers. And we shared your pride and delight in your beautiful family.
How exciting it was to watch Maddy in the X Factor, to follow the preparations for one wedding after another, the Thanksgiving meals and Christmases and the fabulous photos of all the Curtis clan together, the grandchildren getting bigger each year! Samantha's adoption journey, reading about the younger boys, the 'Downzers' as you affectionately called them, and how they were doing, their camps and theatrical exploits and trips to Washington. We got to share in the big rollicking ride that was your life as a mother of many, and it was beautiful and inspiring.
Then there was the news of Hatty, your beloved daughter in law, as she very bravely fought cancer and the pride you felt in Josh who was such a faithful and loving husband throughout her illness. We worried for her and hoped and prayed for her. And now, within six months of losing his mother, poor Josh has lost his bride too.
So Tripp, the other half of you, the rock of a man with whom you built your extraordinary family and to whom you were so proudly devoted, is moving through the days without you. Little did anyone think last year that father and son would be widowers together today.
Grief and loss is fearful. I dread to think about how it must feel. And yet it is part of the common human experience and something that, in time, will touch us all, if we live long enough.
Thinking about Tripp and Josh reminded me of this 14th century poem which I came across in an anthology of Irish writing . I was 15 at the time and a stranger to bereavement. But it offered me a powerful glimpse into the savage loneliness of death.
On the Death of his Wife
I parted from my life last night,
A woman’s body sunk in clay:
The tender bosom that I loved
Wrapped in a sheet they took away.
The heavy blossom that had lit
The ancient boughs is tossed and blown;
Hers was the burden of delight
That long had weighed the old tree down.
And I am left alone tonight
And desolate is the world I see,
For lovely was that woman’s weight
That even last night had lain on me.
Weeping I look upon the place
Where she used to rest her head,
For yesterday her body’s length
Reposed upon you too, my bed.
Yesterday that smiling face
Upon one side of you was laid
That could match the hazel bloom
In its dark delicate sweet shade.
Maelva of the shadowy brows
Was the mead-cask at my side;
Fairest of all flowers that grow
Was the beauty that has died.
My body’s self deserts me now,
The half of me that was her own,
Since all I knew of brightness died
Half of me lingers, half is gone.
The face that was like hawthorn bloom
Was my right foot and my right side;
And my right hand and right eye
Were no more mine than hers who died.
Poor is the share of me that’s left
Since half of me died with my wife;
I shudder at the words I speak;
Dear God, that girl was half my life.
And our first look was her first love;
No man had fondled ere I came
The little breasts so small and firm
And the long body like a flame.
For twenty years we shared a home,
Our converse milder with each year;
Eleven children in its time
Did that tall stately body bear.
It was the King of hosts and roads
Who snatched her from me in her prime:
Little she wished to leave alone
The man she loved before her time.
Now King of churches and of bells,
Though never raised to pledge a lie
That woman’s hand - can it be true? -
No more beneath my head will lie.
Happy birthday dear friend. I bless the day you were born. Thank you for all the good you did and all you tried to do. You were a fierce champion for mothers and children. You used your talent for communicating to advocate for motherhood, especially for those mothers of disabled children who found in you an inspiring and encouraging friend.
I owe you more than I can say and I'll never forget you. May the Good Lord be merciful to you and make His face to shine upon you. I will continue to pray for you, and for the family you loved so dearly. Please pray for me.