When grief is raw the presence of the deceased is overwhelming. In households that lost children in the tsunami it became routine, after half an hour of tea and chat, to be asked if I would like to ‘meet’ the dead sons and daughters.
Richard Lloyd Parry, ‘Ghosts of the Tsunami’, London Review of Books
Continued incapacitating grief is the commonest variation of the usual pattern of mourning. There is evidence that the people who at first do not demonstrate their grief may later show this troubled, chronic state. To recognize a state of grief as being unduly prolonged, however, infers that there is a generally accepted length of mourning. In fact the duration of sorrow varies enormously.
John Hinton, Dying (1967)
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I am so happy, so happy.
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Empty-handed I entered the world
Barefoot I leave it.
My coming, my going –
Two simple happenings
That got entangled.
The story goes: One February morning in 1360 the Zen monk Kozan Ichikyo, aged 77, wrote his jisei (‘death poem’), put down his brush, and died where he sat.
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Behind the clouds, in the south, a clear patch was growing larger, and pretty soon emptiness would have the sky. That was the way, a dream of days followed by emptiness, the huge water turning over the grains of sand, neither one knowing which was big and which was small. Mr. Cheung was uneasy and sad. He would have to die, and the quiet knife of this fact wasn’t dissuaded by the interplay of milkiness and inkiness in the textures of the Atlantic under these clouds of October, or by his prayers, best wishes, or sorrow. His mood swelled and the action of the wind over the beach seemed full of power.
Denis Johnson, Fiskadoro
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I remember when I was a girl and a young man fell in love with me, and he came and sang in the rain under an apple-tree outside my windows, and he caught tuberculosis and died.
—Nora Barnacle, quoted in Brenda Maddox’s biography Nora.
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They Caught the Ferry (1948). Directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer, and described by Senses of Cinema as “the most extraordinary Road Safety film ever made”.
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Maybe one of the hardest things is to see beyond your own society, to step out of the collective consciousness of your time, but it teaches you about things as nothing else does. You begin to see your own age not with understanding, perhaps, but with compassion. You see the weakness and smallness of things which are now great or powerful. Sights which might at other times have filled me with contempt now moved me to pity, such as the overdressed women with their jewels and their expensive clothes in the Caffè Greco, the pity you might feel for bones found in an ancient tomb, a priceless ring on each fingerbone. I pity them their deaths in a way that they do not pity themselves, and I pity them for their faith in frail mortal things, for not knowing that there will be nothing left but weeds and broken stones.
Deirdre Madden, Remembering Light and Stone (Faber and Faber, 1992)
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Suppressing the fear of death makes it all the stronger. The point is only to know, beyond any shadow of doubt, that “I” and all other “things” now present will vanish, until this knowledge compels you to release them — to know it now as surely as if you had just fallen off the rim of the Grand Canyon. Indeed, you were kicked off the edge of a precipice when you were born, and it’s no help to cling to the rocks falling with you. If you are afraid of death, be afraid. The point is to get with it, to let it take over — fear, ghosts, pains, transience, dissolution, and all.
Alan Watts, The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are
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When Kleinzeit opened the door of his flat Death was there, black and hairy and ugly, no bigger than a medium-sized chimpanzee with dirty fingernails.
Not all that big, are you, said Kleinzeit.
Not one of my big days, said Death. Sometimes I’m tremendous.
Russell Hoban, Kleinzeit (1974)
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