An Aria On Grief - John Samuel Tieman

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Axar.az presents an article "An Aria On Grief " by John Samuel Tieman.

I was a boy, an altar boy when I first thought about the process of grieving. I remember my first funeral mass, known in those days as a Black Mass for the black vestments the priest wore. These were the days of Latin, the first words spoken in the Black Mass taken from a psalm, “Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine. Et lux perpetua luceat eis.” “Grant them eternal rest, O Lord. And let perpetual light shine upon them.” After the Mass, I went with the family to the cemetery. The priest sprinkled holy water on the casket, which dripped off dirty tears. There was soil piled at the edge of the grave site. After the casket was lowered into the ground, mourners took handfuls of dirt and threw them on the coffin. I wondered at the mourners, their grief, their stoicism. I wondered how this ritual has comforted Catholics for millennia. And I wondered not only about death – I wondered about the process of grief. I've wondered ever since.

Of late, I’ve given more thought to a psychiatrist, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, whose work on grief I’ve long admired. Kubler-Ross and her colleagues developed a five-stage model of death and grieving. These stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I’d like to add three stages of recovery to her five stages of grief.

I'm 74. I have an experience that is little known to younger folks. I pick up an old photo of me and some others. Then I realize I'm the only one in that photo who is still alive. Odd as it may sound, I never thought aging would bring so much loss. My old buddy, Rudy. My brother. My dear, dear friend, Margaret. My wife's sister. Moisy. A classmate. A former student. An army buddy. A nun I once knew. A professor that I've kept up with all these years. And many more. So many. So I've become something of an expert in sorrow.

My father-in-law died. Phoebe’s father, Mario Cirio, died peacefully in his sleep. He was 93. I am not being clichéd, as one often is at these times, when I say that Mario was one of the kindest, gentlest and most generous men I’ve ever known. I am deeply saddened by the loss, but profoundly grateful for how he enriched our lives.

That said, in the short term, it was anti-climatic. He left his body to St. Louis University’s medical school. There was a memorial service planned for the near future, but there was no funeral to arrange. There was no hurry about the obituary. We notified family, friends. There was paperwork. But no drama. Mostly it was just us, the sadness, and Phoebe’s three stages of recovery.

The first stage was the first joke. Maybe a week after Mario’s death, I said to my beloved, “Jesus, Phoebe, your whole life has turned into a Tammy Wynette song. Your mother died less than a year ago. Then your father died. You just had major surgery, with a shoulder replacement to come next month. You have bad teeth. You’re just lucky you don’t have a dog to die, or a pick-up truck to break down.” For the first time since her father's death, she laughed.

The second stage is the change of tense. It was that simple moment. She says, “I wonder if Dad is – I mean was, was – I wonder if Dad was…”

The third stage is even simpler than the second. After we drive home from the bank, while we feed the birds in the yard, my wife grows quiet. She simply stares into the distance. I wait. I don’t need to ask.

2024.04.15 / 09:52
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