Seasons of grief

A friend, besieged by grief over a struggling relationship introduced me to Kate McGarrigle’s song Proserpina, a song I struggle to get out of my mind. The words pop up all the time, even when I least expect them.



Come home to Mama, come home to your mother now.

It’s a variation of the story of Persephone who was stolen to the underworld by its king, Hades, much to her mother, Demeter’s grief and after the god’s made some sort of deal she, Persephone, (the Greek name for its Roman counterpart, Proserpina) was allowed to return to earth for half of the year.

And so, we have the making of the seasons, winter and autumn for grief and spring and summer the joy of reunion.

When she is gone Proserpina’s mother, Hera or Demeter, which ever you prefer, both sisters of Zeus and one thought to be Proserpina’s mother, also Goddess of agriculture, refuses to do her job:

I shall punish the earth

I shall turn up the heat

I shall take away every morsel to eat

I shall turn every field into stone

While I walk here all alone crying for Proserpina,

Proserpina, come home to your mother now.

If like me, you could constantly hear the music to which these words are set, you too might feel overcome, especially once you’ve seen and heard Martha Wainwright, Kate McGariggle’s daughter,  sing this song.

It’s one that gets to the pit of my gut and reaches into the back of my brain.

It bespeaks a grief that is greater than any grief I have ever known.

Kate McGarrigle wrote the sing once diagnosed with the cancer that killed her and her daughter, Martha sang this version soon after her mother’s death.

And how is this for a poem on grief;


It wasn’t the bees I thought to tell but wasps
the evening you died. Not things that fly
from earth to the underworld bearing sweetness
on their wings: grief made me bitter
and so in bitterness I went to seek
what roots among the mud and leaves, hanging
its home in ashes. I wanted to believe
this world would be our only one.
What other streams could run more cold,
what trees bloom with darker fruit?
I was happy here once, as were you.
I wanted to stay and grieve in the failing world
where we were human together.
Why tell the bees who must be taught of loss?
And so I fell among the wasps, whispering
your name into the hole I scooped
beside the marshy winter creek, where wind
now scours the freezing water. Where reed
on broken reed hums its numb refrain,
and love turns in its mud home, and sleeps.

Paisley Rekdal [winner of the 2018 Narrative Prize]


Memory is a testy beast

Three days before my mother died, I
lost my watch, and not for the first time.  It is a watch I have worn for at least fifteen years.  When I could not find it in any of the likely places, I took this loss as an omen, a sign of change ahead and
bought myself a new watch in honour of my mother. 
Three days after we buried her, I found my old watch again, this time in the freezer.  It
must have slipped off in the action of lifting the freezer lid and it rested there on top
of the puff pastry until I saw it again last night when my husband was making
lamb pies for dinner.  
The watch was still ticking
time, if not a little cold, as cold as my mother’s body when I had leaned over
her coffin and touched her hand the night before her funeral. 
The funeral parlour people had laid
my mother out for a viewing in a blouse and skirt my sisters had chosen for
her.  My mother’s hands were interlinked, as if in prayer, in a way they were not the day she died. 
Then they were stretched out in front of her on the patch work quilt the
hospital had provided in a bid to make her look as if she were in an ordinary bed at home.
My sister told me later that they
massage people’s limbs after death when embalming them into more fitting
shapes.  But the woman in the coffin was no
longer my mother.  Her smile, stretched tight
across her thin lips, looked too wide by half and her face had been
compressed. The sight of her left me cold.  
I could not shed a tear for my mother then in
the funeral parlour because the wax work figure in her
place reminded me of someone I once knew, a colleague, whom I was not fond of,
and so I chose not to stay too long with my mother’s body in the coffin, but to
enjoy my memories of her as she had lived.
I last lost my watch a few years ago in Brighton, England, when I was there for a conference.  It seemed an omen then, too, to lose a watch
among the brightly lit stalls along the Brighton pier or down among the pebbles
on the beach, so different from our sand here in Australia. 
I found my watch again that time, too,
this time in the bottom of my bag.  But I
will never find my mother again and it takes some getting used to.  This sense that she will not return, that I
can never again ask her questions about her life or mine. 
And memory is such a testy
beast.  The week before my mother died I
went to collect some items from the drycleaner, most of them were ready but a
few had not been completed and so I said I’d collect them on my next
visit, which I did. 
I now find my trousers are missing, loved trousers, black with an embossed check in the fabric.  They must still be at the drycleaners, but no,
the drycleaner reckons today, I must have misplaced them at home.
I tell the drycleaner – I’m a long
term customer and know him well, as well as anyone can know a drycleaner – my
mother died and this past week has been unsettled. 
Then I regret the telling.  He might think I’m a bit unhinged.  It lets him off the hook.  No longer his responsibility to look for my trousers
among the rows of plastic coated offerings, all attached to a number.  None attached to my number. 
I tell him, I’ll look again at home.  Maybe like my watch, but unlike my mother, my
trousers will show up soon.