Contagious music

I have a serious ear worm in my head, Kate McGarrigle’s Proserpina as performed by her daughter Martha Wainwright soon after Kate’s death from clear cell sarcoma in 2010 when she was only 63.

The music refuses to leave me and I imagine if I share it here, you might catch some of it too and take it away from me.

I wake up these words, already in my head as if they never left before I fell asleep. I wake to the song, a variation on the life of Persephone, the goddess of spring, and in Roman known as Proserpina, the daughter of Demeter or Ceres depending on your Greek or Latin, the goddess of grain and agriculture, but at one point in the chorus referred to as Hera, Demeter’s sister and the goddess of women, perhaps because it fits into the rhythm better.

The song begins with a plea from mother to daughter:

Proserpina, Proserpina, come home to momma, words that repeat themselves over and over as if there is a mother out there desperately calling to her daughter, Come home to your mother. Come home to momma, now.

In the story Demeter’s grief is so great she brings forth the winter. Her daughter, stuck underground with Proserpina’s husband Pluto (Hades in Greek, and god of the underworld)  who wants her to stay with him forever.

The call to come home changes to a tirade, Demeter casting pestilence on the world:

I shall punish the earth

I shall turn down the heat

I shall take away every morsel to eat

I shall turn every field into stone

As I walk crying alone crying for Proserpina,

Proserpina come home to Momma.

Come home to momma now.

 And it goes on repeating, the same words the same pain, the angst of loss, the utter grief and you can sense the Martha Wainwright’s grief at losing her mother.

A friend who is suffering heart break put me onto this song, a dear friend and whenever the words repeat in my ears, I think of her sadness and of other losses and I wish I could unleash something of the keening within me for all the losses I’ve endured too but it will not come.

My own grief sits inside me, set aside like so much hardened concrete refusing to budge.

Maybe that’s the lot of writers to stand aside and observe not only the grief of others but their own grief, as though it belongs out there to someone else and they must keep a close eye on it so that it does not slip its moorings and infect them to the point they cannot function.

The stuff of grief

The weather’s on the turn.  I’ve seen the first of the pink blossoms out
in the neighbouring streets.  My mother’s
body is decomposing in the ground near to where we had buried my father but my
life goes on. 
On the day of my mother’s funeral I
looked into the deep hole in the ground where her body was soon to rest to look
for signs of my father. As if the gravediggers would allow for that, but some
part of me hoped to see signs, bones perhaps, some testament to my father’s
existence where we last put him over thirty years ago.   I saw none.  
These two, my parents, united in marriage in 1942, their bodies together again in the earth, despite all their trials while living.  
This morning I needed to use a long
stick to dislodge the newspaper from out underneath our car.  The indignity of it all, me in my dressing
gown on all fours poking underneath the car as far as my arm could reach to
roll out the newspaper that the deliverers insist on chucking in over the
fence.  But that’s small indignity compared
to illness and death.
Still my mother is not far away and
images of her during her last few weeks pop into my mind unbidden.  When I find myself clearing sleep from the
corner of my eye I see my mother’s pointy finger nail on her index finger as
she tried to brush aside the conjunctivitis gunk that had built up in her eyes
as she lay dying. 
Is this the stuff of grief? 
Somehow I do not imagine myself
grieving for my mother anymore.  One of
my brothers sent an email and called it something along the lines of ‘Closing
the file on our mother’. 
Closing the file.  As if it were so easy.  But grief is at the other end.  When we grieve we cannot let go. 
I sense a too-easy ability to let
go.  My mother comes in and out of my
thoughts, but she is not there at the surface most of the time. 
I run into a friend for the first
time since my mother’s death and she asks me meaningfully with a special tone
in her voice, ‘How are you?’ and for a minute I go to say ‘I’m fine,’ but then
I recognise the intent of her question and I have to modify my tone.  I go back to the week of my mother’s death
and talk about how hard it was then, but for now it seems I’ve entered a
protective bubble that tells me I have too much to go on with to grieve for too
long. 
It was different when my mother was
around and I sensed my deep obligation to her, especially in her last few
years, unlike it had been from my early twenties through to more recently.  Now I am free of her, and yet it jars. 
For the past two Sundays, the day
on which I visited my mother regularly during these past few years I factor in
a visit to her, only to remember I will not go to her any more. 
I will make one last trip next week
to my mother’s old room in the retirement village to help my sister and whichever
other of our siblings might show up, to move out the last of our mother’s belongings. 
And thereafter, my sister, one of
the executors, will distribute my mother’s few possessions to which ever of the
siblings most expresses a need or desire.  
We will divide up my mother’s belongings as
best we can, much as we did when I was little, when on Sunday nights we shared a rectangular block of Neapolitan ice-cream for dessert.  Strawberry, chocolate and vanilla in three tight layers.  My older sister took a knife and divided the block into ten, if we were
all at home. My father, a diabetic in those days, missed out. 
I’ve ordered Helen Garner’s latest
book, This House of Grief, about the
Farquarson murder.  This is the story of
a father who has been found guilty of murdering his three sons by driving them
in his car into a dam.  According to
court and news reports, Farquharson claimed he had suffered a coughing fit and
had lost consciousness at the wheel. He managed to get himself free from the
car, but his sons were trapped inside and drowned.  The event took place on Father’s Day during a
custody visit.  There is evidence from
witnesses that Farquarson had said he wanted to pay back his wife, and that he
knew she would remember every Father’s Day for the rest of her life.  This is yet another story that ranks among
the particularly spectacular examples of revenge enacted.  After two trials, including an appeal, the
jury held that Farquharson was responsible for the death of his three
sons. 
Helen Garner’s a brilliant writer I reckon but she
turns people into characters   Should
there be a ‘but’.  Isn’t this what
writers do?  Isn’t this what I do when I
write about my mother as though she is now only so much decomposing matter in the
ground and for the rest she is a memory, a fiction, a fantasy, a person who
once lived but is now no more.
My mother, and those three little
boys drowned in the dam, like ghosts they hover over us.  The skies are filled with their invisible
spectres. 
I cannot figure out the maths but I
imagine there are many more ghosts in the sky above than living people on the
ground. 
As for me, still alive, I have a day to meet;
a daughter who complains jut now that some unknown person – not me – has bought
‘caged’ eggs.  We do not eat caged eggs
here.  We abhor the cruelty shown to hens
kept in cages. 
‘The cat food stinks, too’, my
daughter says.  The food I serve the cats
first thing in the morning a mixture of dry and wet from a can – pilchards and
something else – offends her sensibilities. 
How can she eat breakfast with that smell up her nose?    
And I skulk off to write.
Life is back to normal