Thursday, February 7, 2008 - Elegy in black
A week ago I went to lunch with a client. I see them about once a month and know them on a formal basis. The main guy I deal with is in his early forties, there was also an older gentleman with us in his late 60's. I have only met him a few times and had a few discussions with him about business, as well as family and personal topics
After being seated at the restaurant and being served appetizers and drinks we engaged in what started out as light conversation. The discussion turned to what movies I had seen. I mentioned I had recently seen 'Away from her' with Julie Christie http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0491747/, the subject is a Canadian lady, the relationship with her husband and her descent into Alzheimers. The movie features some poignant passages of the old man reading to his wife from W.H. Auden's Letters from Iceland. I'm sure many movie goers remember Auden's poem 'Funeral Blues' from the movie Four Weddings and a Funeral.
As soon as I mentioned Away from her it was immediately at this point that I recalled the older gentleman had a wife with Alzheimers that he had mentioned in a previous conversation, I could feel a rush of embarrsessed blood start to raise in my cheeks and wanted to crawl under the table.
He asked me what happened in the movie. I can't even remember what my answer was as I danced around the subject as best as I could.
The younger guy shuffled around in his seat and tried to switch the uncomfortable subject matter and inject some humor, but the older guy was obviously pensive. I had noticed the older guy was wearing oversized sunglasses over his regular spectacles and did wonder why as he had not been wearing them on the few other times I had met him, and it was winter here in California.
The older gentlemen then started discussing his wife's death, which I was unaware of as she was receiving care the last time we spoke about her, within the last year.
The discomfort I felt became replaced by feelings of embarressed empathy as I realized the man was obviously grieving, hence the sunglasses and his meandering thoughts during the initial greeting.
He continued to open up and share his feelings including a statement about how difficult it was to have sex with someone in her condition and how he had cheated on her during this difficult time with a prostitute. He then moved on to her last moments and how upon the moment of death her head had shook violently. Which he interpreted as her sprit leaving her body, but also knew it was a final death spasm.
We then moved onto the subject of her cremation. He had asked the attendent if anyone opened the coffin after the cremation and was assured he would be the last one to touch her remains. He disclosed he had then slipped a letter confessing his discretions with the prostitute(s) and a single rose. He then explained that after the cremation the body is not completely ash and ready for the urn, it is but in a bone crushing machine and pulverized into dust. He was invited to view the full buring from a side view and had declined, seeing her slip away behind a curtain. The other guy in our company interjected that he was sure any gold teeth and rings would be reclaimed by the funeral attendant, I got the feeling he was trying to say something helpful as we both sat there unsure how to deal with a grieving man looking for absolution and admonishment of guilt.
I wanted to write this down before it slips away from my mind, it was a week ago and has been preying in the dark recesses of my mind ever since. Auden's poem seems appropriate with the gender changed from the original.
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message She is Dead.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
She was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the woods;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.