Friday, March 02, 2012

Burnt Offering

Last night I had a dream.

-- --

The sky was low and gray; it should have been late February or, as it is now, early March when Oregon wears all the colors of the rainbow from steel gray through dark gray to gray-green.

Though the rain had stopped the mournful firs were still dripping from the drizzle that had ended in promise of more rain to come.

Entropy had split the little group that was leaving the cemetary, dividing into ones and threes, talking quietly among themselves as they looked to find their cars for the wet ride home.

But the young woman who remained was still and silent, looking down at the wet grass.She was of a very middling sort; medium height, medium build, the hair escaping her dark headband a sort of midtone brown, her eyes a quiet hazel. Her face in repose was an unremarkable sort of oval, pointed chin small, brow smooth, her best feature that clear gaze now hooded with thought.

But when she spoke her voice was anything but midrange, instead, a startlingly deep contralto that cut through the distant street noise with a hint of brass.

"When I was a girl I never understood what you meant." she said to the ground before her feet. "And then when I grew up I didn't want to hear about it." She reached into her pocket as she continued. "But when you got sick last spring I remembered what you'd asked for. So. Here."

She bent a knee and laid the shallow brass bowl down next to the ash-spot on the grass. And, still genuflecting, placed several small items in the bowl; a spring of holly, and one of juniper, and four short hair-clippings.

"That's from Mom, and Shea, and one from me. And that sad little one is yours, what you had left after the chemo. It was the best I could do."

She removed a small vial from the same pocket and poured the contents into the bowl. Then struck a match and dropped it into the oil, which flared up in a smoke twining with the scents of juniper and hollyberry mixed with the acrid reek of human hair."You did the best you could, too. I miss you already, Dad. Thanks. Goodbye."

And my daughter Bryn straightened up and waited for the flame to burn down to ash.

And nodded her head once and walked away into the misting rain.

-- --

Of course, in life my oldest daughter never lived to burn a momento mori for me; instead ten years ago today I held her tiny body and felt her heart run ticking down and stop. Felt her little arms and legs grow cold. Held her and hugged her and wept over her.

And when I think of that day now, I can only weep again and remember why Heroditus said that only a great fool desires war more than peace, for in peace sons bury their fathers, while in war fathers bury their sons.

I cannot describe the loss of your child,except to say that there is as yet no nepenthe for fathers who bury their daughters.


Lisa said...

A possible interpretation:

You have switched identities for the purpose of healing. You are burying your grief, symbolized by the funeral, the fire and the few strands of "your" chemo hair. The toxicity (= the shed chemo hair) is becoming thinner; has, in fact, died.

You are setting your grief, or something of it, afire, IMHO. You are releasing yourself, and Bryn, and this is appropriate. The decade mark is significant.

FDChief said...

I hope so. It gets very wearing, dreading this time of year, every year.

And the odd thing is - as I thought as I wrote up this odd little dream - that I am now at the point where I would have to give up one beloved daughter to have the other back; had Bryn lived Missy would be another girl living another life. I find that as appalling as the loss of Bryn herself.

So, like so much in life, like so much about loss and human emotion, there is no "sense" or logic here, merely dust and ashes.

ChrissyB said...

Thank you for sharing such a deeply personal part of you and your family. I hope it eases your pain...

Lisa said...

I would suggest there is both sense and logic; how could it be otherwise with your thinking :)

Your unconscious knows there is no "replacement"; the loss is absolute and discrete. However, you must reckon with the fact that you did, in a sense, replace her, or her space in your life.

You must assuage your feelings that there is anything amiss about this. I 'spect your dream is her (you) accepting the thing you "didn't want to hear about": your fear that there may be some betrayal in the adoption.

The girl in the dream recognizes the "sickness" of soul you feel, and so creates a ritual release for you.

I feel a convergence happening for you, and that you needn't hold such a depth of sorrow to counter your joy of Missy.

I think it's a positive dream, a harbinger of good to come.

Anonymous said...

Even in loss & tragedy John, you somehow create beauty. The pictures you paint of what Bryn would have looked like as a girl (thin arms round her legs as she listens to your stories) & as a woman (w/ thoughtful clear gaze) are incredibly moving, and feel very real. It's tempting to imagine some part of her was passed back to you in that one precious day - and stayed. Some knowledge of her solid, loving character certainly seems to have, and it's deeply moving to think of it that way.

The dream feels circular. Her in a place of mourning you, instead of you mourning her. Still, she knows you and cares - had listened to you and wanted to do what you asked. There's love and concern in that. I like what Lisa says here, too - that the dream-her seems to be taking care of what you needed, wanted. Peace? Perhaps. And she assures you still she misses you...

Again, it is unspeakable tragedy. Wishing you well dear John -- and wishing you peace and release from the weight. Hoping that at some point a sort of peace with the terrible senselessness replaces some of the dread & horror. No logic in these horrors of reality, no. But instead, at least, the assurances from dreams that you did the best you could do... That counts for a lot. You do John, every day. And she would have been so proud of you. She certainly would have.


FDChief said...

I do miss her a little less every year. But I think that the pain will linger on in some form until I take my dirt nap. Kipling summed it up in a nice little Kiplingesque epigram;

"If we fall in the race
Though we win,
The hoof-slide is scarred on the course.
Though Allah and Earth pardon Sin
Remaineth forever remorse."

I try and express the way I feel as best I can; it's a sad comment on me that I convert even my griefs into prose-fodder. But the feelings themselves are bitter gall. Even after all this time, there's a part of me that wants to grab God by the front of His robe and snarl in his face Give me back my child, you murdering fucker!"

It's hard to describe, because I'm young enough - and not having been in combat - that I have not lost anyone else so dear to me. My parents, who are in their eighties, are at the stage where they grieve some dear friend nearly every year. I imagine that when I get to that age I will have a different perspective, and Bryn's death and my grieving her will be in some part subsumed by that tide of death and grief that comes with age and the approach of my own finality.

But for your kind words, and comments, my thanks; 'tis bitter cold. And I am sick at heart.

But tomorrow WILL come, and with it, life and light.

Lisa said...

We -- those who care about you -- hold you tenderly, and would like to enfold you in a robe of comfort and care. Perhaps you can envision such a gossamer thing surrounding you as you read this.

BigFred said...

Chief, fantastic. I'm going to toast both your daughters tonight, and may get a little sloppy doing it.