‘Stop all the clocks,’ says WH Auden in his poem, ‘Funeral Blues.’ ‘Cut off the telephone. Stop the dog from barking with a juicy bone. Silence the pianos and with muffled drum, bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.’
The first time I heard this verse, I hadn’t lost anyone, really. A few neighbors had passed away. A cousin died. We all felt sad in the way children do when they see adults cry. But it was never personal. Since then I’ve lost my in-laws, both parents, and many friends.
Before mama died last week, my siblings and I had surrounded her with songs, prayer, assurances of our love, promises of good behavior. Mostly we sounded like a bunch of six year olds trying to make a very good impression on someone who already knew us all too well. With her passing, Auden’s poem returned to me, especially the first line. Because when someone so important to us dies, the clocks should stop. A silence ought to fall so everyone on earth can drop what they’re doing and ask, ‘What’s going on? What happened?”
Grief is the unwanted journey. The boxer who waits inside a dark ring. Please, you think. Just give me a minute. Give me a moment. Please stop the clock. But grief has no mercy. It jabs and jabs and knocks you down until after a while its not even worth fighting.
Auden’s last verse says:
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 wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
You live there. Down at the bottom where the darkness of your grief rips a hole in your chest, confirming what you already knew. You won’t ever rise again. But strangely, and in opposition to how most things work, that admission of defeat brings peace. The hurt begins to ease. You are able to acknowledge that death is part of life. That it’s coming for all of us, even if, as I believe, we’re simply moving on to another place.
The clocks can’t stop because they would never be able to start again. What feels so singular, so personal, so tightly packed on the inside, is universal. We all grieve. We all become orphans and widow-ers. The ones left behind. Most of us are lucky enough to realize what we’ve had within our small communities of friends and family. In lonely times we draw our memories around us; an embrace from everyone we’ve ever loved and lost. Then we take a deep breath. Feel lighter. Discover that we don’t hurt as much as before. The boxer puts down his gloves and the ring fades. Life goes on.