Jim inside the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey (summer 2004)
She tells her love while half asleep,
In the dark hours,
With half-words whispered low:
As Earth stirs in her winter sleep
And puts out grass and flowers
Despite the snow,
Despite the falling snow
—Robert Graves (a favorite author for the Admiral, the poem quoted 2X in ASByatt’s Possession, one of my favorite neo-Victorian novels)
Dear friends and readers,
A dear friend told me that in some countries (or religions) people do something to remember someone who has died 40 days ago. It’s been 40 days since my beloved died.
You see above from a set of photos I’ve not used before: Jim looking up from the grounds of Glastonbury Abbey the summer we spent 3 weeks in England with Laura and Izzy. To commemorate someone you really need a group of people to do it with or some ritual. I don’t have that tomorrow. I’d love to go to Roosevelt Island where in the 1980s when the girls were young we’d go walking on weekends: there’s a footbridge one takes from Washington D.C. across to this island in the Potomac which is beautifully quiet (no cars) and I have good memories of those walks. Just now it may be a bit cold and rainy for such a walk and it’d be desolating alone.
So instead I’m remembering our trip to England in summer 2005, how we went to Stonehenge twice, to Avebury, & found a third set of stones called Stanbury Drew; our day in Bath (and walk in Prior Park); a day at Longleate (picnic), Somerset itself, Brighton Beach —
and all the many Landmark Trust places Jim rented over the years which we’d spend anywhere from 3 to 7 days in, including a 15th century gatehouse with a Jacobean ceiling; a clock tower by the sea, a Duke’s hunting lodge (meant for hideaway — it has a bed in an alcove with a mirror above it); an Oxford flat; Elton House with its widestairs for 18th century invalids in wheelchairs and its Roman floor in the basement; John Betjeman’s flat on Cloth Fair near Smithfield in London.
Another friend sent me earlier this week (when I put “Let it Be” and “The Land of Might Have Been” on this blog) this poem by W.H. Auden:
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 in the sky the message He is Dead,
Put crêpe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He 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 wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
Read aloud by Tom O”Bedlam
As I’ve said I am two people: one is continually on the move, doing things, going places, with people, reading, writing, watching movies, apparently cheerful except when she breaks down (like today when I became hopelessly lost after my GPS broke down and were it not for a kindly black man in his 30s or so who drove back to Alexandria from far away in McLean with me following him so as to get me near my home) or is driven wild with anxiety because a clerk in a bank couldn’t be bothered to mail in in time some forms she filled out, or is required to cope with some website beyond her ability to fathom. The other, the continuo basso is desperately unhappy; her prognosis 20 years. I’m nearly 67, surely I won’t live past 87.
A scene repeatedly comes back to mind: not the one when I was 19 and sat on a park bench with a friend and told her I was going somehow to spend the rest of my life reading and writing, which I usually think of as a turning point, when I repudiated just about all the values and goals I had been taught, especially the Tennysonian ones about striving, conquering, not yielding; I made that sharp turn from shoddy, the meretricious which cost so much and others seemed to want (and to me were just vexation of spirit) though how I’d do what I wanted, last I couldn’t guarantee. No, I keep recalling the one when I was nearly 23 and walking along a sidewalk in Manhattan, looked up at that godawful strip of a sky, around at the anonymous decrepit block, and made up my mind to return to England and marry Jim Moody — forthwith. I would not be alone; he could sleep the night through, was stable, would provide a measure of peace and I knew was wholly unlike the world I came from when it came to enjoying life through spending what money he had. I thought it’d be okay. I’d keep up my end; I knew what he wanted.
Thin scabs covered jagged wounds.
I’ve lost my bargain. I was not alert enough, sufficiently on the watch for the axe behind that door. I had never heard of esophageal cancer before April of this year, 6-7 short months ago. When he was in his forties and developed acid reflux disease so badly, I should have questioned him insistently. He never told me that I can remember that he had an herniated disk in his diaphragm and that was what caused this condition. The doctor gave him three different tough prescriptions until one began to relieve him, and then for a few years he’d have his liver and kidneys tested every 3 months because these endangered his organs. I do believe had I asked him what were these prescriptions for he would not have been able to tell me; he did not question the doctor. There was no internet then to look things up. No wikipedia. Instead I just accepted this as a new norm and when the doctor said he could take a weaker over-the-counter medication, was relieved and didn’t think to act when I saw how many tums he ate. Mind you, I’m told his smoking cigarettes for 20 years and then cigars for 3 more, his drinking could have caused this cancer. I don’t believe it. I believe it was the acid reflux within a toxic environment, and a family susceptibility to cancer.
No retrieval. No going back. He doesn’t exist any more.
He’ll come no more, / Never, never, never, never, never.
Lear wants to know why a dog, a horse, a rat have life and Cordelia no breath at all. I want to know why so many people seem to have cancer or got it and live on, for at least a while. Why are they alive and he not? He refused to fight. Would I have fought? I don’t know. I have certainly similarly refused to go a conventional route to keep my teeth. But then one does not die of a lack of teeth. I remember before he had that criminal operation he was suggesting he would do nothing at all; he said how horrible all cancer treatments were said to be. I said it was a question of his dying. He said, no it was when and how he’d die. So he knew. I wish I had instead of arguing no, we must do something, then proposed one last trip to England. His bargain became he would gain 5 more years by that operation and chemotherapy. He lost his bargain.
My character is what it ever was. And life returns to what it was — something of an ordeal I’m not good at. Yes I’ve accumulated with him, through him over the 44 years: I’ve got a widow’s pension, my very own social security, insurances, savings, a house, 2 cats, furniture, books and 2 daughters — and some life’s experience so I can teach if someone will give me a job — doubtful but if I am willing to do it for free …
My admiral did say before he died that I should not berate myself if I can’t do the things others expect me to and if I live here quietly, just do it. Don’t drive myself with what I can’t do. If I find myself mostly alone, live with it. It’s what I knew before I knew him. Explanations help: my Aspergers traits; his reclusiveness and isolating us; my job which made me invisible. But the pain of feeling excluded is not easier. Still, he repeated over and over I could survive without him. There would be enough money. He would have told me not to go to these psychologists — I go to 3, Kaiser provides a psychiatrist (2 visits thus far but I will not go again, it’s a waste of time and money — all this man wants to do is give me pills which make me woozy, give me headaches), a psychologist (clever nice woman, every week and a half) and now I’ve a grief support person (ditto, twice a month). In a way what they are is a way for me to keep at a distance what I’m facing; there’s the time getting there, being there, and coming back. The two women have given me helpful advice and I can talk for real about what I’m feeling. Carol Bechl said my problem very well: I’ve lost my best and central friend.
Forty nights have not quickly dreamed away the time, but the time has slipt away. I should be trying for what was good, remember what was good — what hurts is they will come no more.
I can do this: I finished reading for him the last book he was reading when he could read no longer, when his brain gave out and he couldn’t process the words and his eyes were too tired to read a a thorough book: he stopped about one-third into Carolyn Steedman’s great Labours Lost: Domestic Service and the Making of Modern England. It’s actually a typical book for him, the kind he liked to read. I’ll make a blog on Austen Reveries as it’s centered on research in the 18th century England.
I have found two more good books written by people who have lost a spouse to death from cancer: Terry Tempest Williams: Refuge: An unnatural history of family and place (the slant is how environmental toxins have killed her family members, especially about her mother); and Jean-Louis Fournier’s ironic Veuf. I’d like to get Julian Barnes’s Levels of Life, but it’s still expensive, only one-third is a memoir (it’s padded) and I haven’t gotten to the library. I did begin a biography of Jane Kenyon by John H. Timmerman.