2. The Only Woman Alive

April 26, 2020

Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here came on the radio the other day. It opens with a long and sparse guitar intro, in which a cough can be heard across one of the tracks. The sound is startling, as though someone unexpected was suddenly discovered to be in the room. More than once I’ve looked over my shoulder when hearing it. It’s what I love about the song, a reminder that this moment has been and will continue to be shared across distance and time.

When I heard that transcendent cough this week, it articulated a feeling I had barely been aware of, though I had been experiencing it almost relentlessly the past three months. It began ninety days ago, the day my brother took his life. There it is. In writing. That tufted weight that tugs at the edges of my brain. It is the presence that accompanies me when I wake in the night, the heaviness that pulls at my eyelids when I open them in the morning, the static that buzzes beneath every conversation. I don’t have to be thinking about it to feel it. But every now and then, a cough sounds and I am reminded. And I am startled by the reality of it all over again. 

He was just 34 years old. A Marine Veteren who saw active duty. A magnificently beautiful soul, a one in a million kind of guy. His death was a shock to everyone who knew him. He hadn’t appeared to be in a place of acute depression. He was outgoing, caring, and present for his own life. He had been doing the hard work of facing his pain and growing. He was not someone who runs from his fear.

We are not meant to make sense of senseless things. 

Grief creates a strange disorientation to time. It suspends you from the world around. Hours stretch on while minutes fly by. Reality becomes permeable. Life zooms in on the most essential functions- eating, breathing, sleeping- and the most crucial elements of existence become crystal clear, situated on the point of a pin- love, time, substance. Within weeks of my brother’s death, I felt I had sloughed off the empty facets of my life that held no value. I assessed my vocation, my friendships, my faith, the minutes and hours of each day. Mortality had become so real, I did not feel I could afford to waste the living.

That was before quarantine began. Now, I can drive for 20 minutes without passing another car on the road. Somedays I feel like the only woman alive. But we are all here, suspended in time together. We grieve a collective grief. As strange as it may sound, I’ve come to see COVID-19 as David Gilmour’s unexpected cough, connecting us across distance and time. But it’s what we do in this moment that will define the impact it will have on our futures. This is an opportunity for all of us to take stock and slough off that which holds no meaning.

Last November, I shared Khalil Gibran’s poem On Love with my brother.

For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you.

Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning.

Even as he ascends to your height and caresses

your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun,

So shall he descend to your roots

and shake them in their clinging to the earth.

We were talking about the inevitably of hardship in life and love, and that, if used correctly, it could be the thing that invites us to love deeper and live more beautifully. Hardship is not just inevitable; rather, it is a necessity. Without it, we simply do not grow. We love and live with merely a fraction of our capabilities.

I can’t help but think that collectively, we are all now being invited to the threshing floor. We’ve crawled into our sheltered spaces where, inevitably, we’ve had to think about how we use our time and resources. We’ve been forced to contemplate the necessity and value of our vocations, the use of our money, how we live among the people we love, the truths we subscribe to. And too, we are forced to reconcile ourselves to all that remained hidden within the busyness of our lives. We have been stripped down to the basics of living. We can no longer hide behind the distractions our culture so adeptly put into place. We have been given permission to feel the weight of loss, to suspend that sacred American quest toward happiness, to breathe.

I invite you to pause in this moment. Allow the stillness of the world to move you. Allow the discomfort to do its work. Take the time to evaluate the awesomeness of each breath you are afforded, what brings fulfillment, the direction your hopes and dreams propel you. Look around at the people who are near you and the ones you long to be near. On what have you placed the value of your existence? What will you hold onto when the doors finally reopen. And more importantly, what will you let go of?

My brother’s death is the greatest pain I’ve experienced in my life. But I realized something else when I heard that song last week. It is that I have not been alone these last three months. The essence of who my brother was, and in a sense, his presence, has accompanied me as poignantly as the grief.. My brother has become the unexpected someone suddenly discovered to be in the room. The loss of his life has propelled me toward the most honest version of myself I have ever known. I am certain the years that stretch before me will be markedly different and more rich in purpose than I ever could have fathomed. I hope this time, as hard as it may be, will offer an opportunity of the same for you.  

Published by dainsworth

The tether. That thing that binds us to our families of origin, not by any desire of our own, but through the mere act of existence. We spend our lives exploring the roots of this connection, be it to an unending wellspring of love or the heavy, unshakeable burden of pain. We create new ones. We watch as old ones fray. And sometimes, in life's most painful moments, we witness those tethers break. (un)tethered traces the paths of old and new connections through family, love, the modern church, and fourteen-years of single-parenting. I begin this blog in a time of deep uncertainty, having recently left my position at the boarding school where I lived and taught for the past five years. Technically, I still live in Charlottesville, VA, but the next steps in life could take us anywhere! There are many unknowns ahead, but I know I am not alone in this. I hope this will be a place of solace for all who are wandering/wondering through this time.

7 thoughts on “2. The Only Woman Alive

  1. As always Dana, you put words to my feelings, and my heart hears your pain. I will always remember your brother with a smile on my face, as I can picture the little mischievous boy of years ago.

    Even though every human experiences grief in a very personal way, when we can read another persons heartache expressed so graciously, we are able to bring our own memories of loved ones to the surface again. We find the time to let our emotions out, to cry, laugh, scream, whatever it takes in that moment, is what we embrace.

    Sending my love to you as you continue to take the next step, and then the one after that. You are a very gifted writer, I look forward to reading your posts.

  2. This is a beautiful piece. It put into words something that has surprised me about grief. The people we lose are more present to us than they have ever been. That makes the grief both worse and better at the same time. Gibraltar poem could be talking about grief as well as love. Best of luck with your writing and your life. Dee

  3. “We are not meant to make sense of senseless things.” So very true on many levels including grief and a whole range of emotions. Your post is beautifully written and I wish you well as you navigate through a very personal time in your life.

    1. Ron, thanks for pointing that out – I missed that line from this blog. It’s true, grace picks up where logic and reason end (she wrote about grace in her last blog).

  4. On re-reading your blog, several things stood out – one in particular. You mention that we should allow the “stillness of the world” to move us. Just recently I’ve re-discovered the value of entering into the silence. True silence doesn’t exist, since there’s always some sound, even if it’s just the beating of our heart and the sound of our breath. But recently it’s been on my mind, as we come to the 23rd anniversary of the death of Princess Diana. So many voices were telling her what she should do and how she should live her life; now she’s been delivered from all that “noise” and is enjoying the silence of eternity. A woman who goes by the name of Mother Thekla wrote the lyrics for a John Tavener composition which was played at Diana’s funeral; it’s called A Song for Athene. I wrote out the lyrics; here they are (I won’t write all the Alleluia’s since there’s so many):
    May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest,
    Remember me O Lord when you come into your kingdom.
    Give rest O Lord to your handmaid, who has fallen asleep,
    The Choir of Saints have found the well-spring of life, and door of Paradise.
    Life, a shadow and a dream,
    Weeping at the grave creates the song.
    Come, enjoy rewards and crowns I have prepared for you.

    I like to think that the well-spring of life and the door of Paradise that the Choir of Saints found is a result of entering into the silence, for there is that kind of power found there.

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