I’ll miss you.
Oh, how I’ll miss you.
I’ll dream of you,
And I’ll cry a million tears.
But the sorrow will pass.
And the one thing that will last,
Is the love that you’ve given to me.
—After You’re Gone, Iris Dement
The movie Four Weddings and a Funeral features a core group of friends–and their friends–who come together at epic life events, including the eponymous ones.
They regroup at assorted celebrations of wedded bliss, and then on an occasion of profound grief: a funeral service at which the deceased character’s partner speaks. In his soft brogue he reads a poem, “Funeral Blues,” by W. H. Auden.
Auden also wrote “Leap Before You Look,” in which he seemed to refer to a living but forbidden lover when he spoke of “rejoic[ing] when no one else is there” being “even harder than it is to weep,” and of a “solitude ten thousand fathoms deep.”
Within the best-known version of Auden’s “Funeral Blues” is a solitude by magnitudes deeper still–a black hole of grief in whose depths the surviving partner beseeches the entire known universe to stop and disappear in the darkness along with him:
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.
This has never been the substance of my own grief, I think largely because I am a surviving parent. As a caretaker during my husband’s illness, and always as a parent, I desperately have aspired not to be dysfunctional in the world. My husband is the first who would want our children to go on as best as they can without him here, and I am absolutely certain–as was he–that things will “come to good”: they will find satisfaction and love and joy beyond their loss.
This week I spoke at rounds at four different hospitals, and at the end of the week I attended a wedding. At rounds I speak of end-of-life care–specifically about the compassionate and not-so-compassionate care Jim received as a patient. It is emotionally draining.
I would not have been at any one of these events but for Jim. He had hoped to present grand rounds himself; I am doing it from a different perspective, as a patient’s family member, but I do it for him.
I also attended the wedding for both of us, rejoining friends Jim brought into my life when we met.
Back to the movie. . . . notwithstanding the title, it doesn’t end with the funeral.
Spoiler alert: life goes on, friendships continue, new relationships are formed and transformed, and children are born and reared.
At this lovely wedding with Jim’s lifelong friends, the heavens were not merely left undismantled; they were stunning. His friends were facing in a different direction than I, so they were the first to point me to a scarlet sun that soon turned neon pink, lingering on the horizon before stars sprinkled out and reflected off the ocean’s waves. No one could have wanted to pack up such a show.
An empty chair was to my right during the ceremony. Had Jim been here with me I would have been holding his left hand; I realized I always sat to his left. Instead I looked at the sky and touched the wedding ring, on a chain around my neck, that his left hand had borne.
The ceremony was on board a ship from which I looked at the skyline of the city where Jim and I had lived for many years, and where we later had learned he was soon going to die.
But it’s possible that some shift has occurred in my perspective. When I think about Iris Dement’s lyrics, I realize now that she’s probably not just speaking of the love between a bereaved person and a single person who is missed. Jim not only loved me and our children; he also brought into our lives and left us with many, many people, and a great deal of love and laughter.
The characters in Four Weddings and a Funeral did not simply have romantic hits and misses; they had a cadre of loyal, lasting, loving friends. And those friends brought other enduring friends and relationships into their lives.
There was a dance as the wedding celebration ended on Friday night, and I could have dwelled in the Land of Loss and stayed at the table by myself–as I was inclined to do–as all the couples around me stood. But one of Jim’s friends and his wife took my arm and told me the three of us would dance together.
This proved logistically difficult. His beautiful wife stepped back and said the two of us should dance that last dance.
And that seemingly small thing made me feel like I am part of something that remains, not just The Widow. I am, somehow, still here, still able to hear their stories and talk about Jim and laugh with them. The entire evening made me feel the warmth of what I have gained instead of just the unerring solitude and pain of what we’ve lost.
A clink to Mike and Susan, to Jim (our own wedding anniversary would have been tomorrow), to friends. We are so thankful to have all of you.
(c) 2012 Stephanie M. Glennon