I have never been good with deaths, weddings, baptisms, or birthdays. Even holidays. Christmas always felt designed to highlight my personal ineptitude at selecting presents for people I love but should get to know better.
Lately, deaths seem to overshadow all else.
I don’t know about you, but I lost an awful lot of good colleagues and friends in 2019.
A newsletter for former newspaper colleagues from San Diego that is usually filled with news of new jobs, recent achievements, helpful life hacks and tips, and debate over contentious industry issues, has begun to shift in tone. One day last week the letter began with the shocking passing of a younger colleague and notices for two memorial services.
What’s next, schedule conflicts over competing memorial services?
The news came in from many directions and made me wish that I’d lived in only one place and worked at only one newspaper all my life, instead of several. It is hard to feel good about old friends who cheated death well past their expiration date. For, in the end, they are gone. As are those who have gone suddenly, on short notice.
The result is always the same.
And we are left to wonder what it all means for our own mortality. Even as we measure their gift to life against our own (and in my case, find myself woefully lacking). Even as we make actuarial calculations, measuring our own prospects against those who have just left us.
We can’t cry out “Enough!” Because, gods, if there are any, won’t hear us.
We know, because we are “of an age,” that this story will only continue to be written and will grow more personal with each passing. Each new passing feels like Death is circling back – insatiable, unfeeling, indiscriminate.
I mourn for each of our colleagues but I lack the right words to create meaning around their passing. Fortunately, most who have left us wrote their own meaning in the course of a lifetime by being bright, funny, caring, thoughtful, inspirational, brave, quirky, imperfect, unpredictable, and, of course, entertaining people. The quality of the colleagues we have lost to death is staggering.
As a survivor on this Earth (so far), I feel undeserving. And a bit hopeless. The soundtrack of my life has come to a screeching halt. It now seems more Requiem than Rock ‘n’ Roll.
I feel gratitude for knowing so many of those who passed in 2019, but a touch of relief that some came and went long before me. Though, I know, the gap narrows. The distinction between predecessors and contemporaries and protegees has begun to blur into nothingness.
At times like these, the Internet always seems to bring you just what you need (or is it God who is in charge of customer fulfillment?).
Today, Vox Populi sent me Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “Dirge Without Music.” Its message is clear and a rally for heavy hearts, our zeitgeist as we age and Death continues to shadow us: “Be not resigned.”
This may give some as much comfort as it gave me this morning:
Dirge Without Music
I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.
Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains,—but the best is lost.
The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.
Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.
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Do not resign yourself to any of it.
Don’t give in to that which you can’t control. Press on. Keep breathing. Keep healing. Keep acknowledging what is real. Keep what has been in your heart. But keep looking forward.
While each death is unique. There is nothing exceptional about dying. We all do it, or will, soon enough.
Here’s to all of those who left us in 2019.
We thank you. We love you. We miss you. We won’t forget you.
But we are not resigned.