Tag Archives: goodbyes

What Happens in a Library When a Beloved Author Dies

  1. The first person to see it on the news uses the library’s internal communication system to send round a message.
  2. The person in each library who reads it spreads the message among their colleagues and everyone talks about the loss of a great human and writer.
  3. Their books are moved to prominent display areas, partly because people are about to come in and ask where they are, but mostly because they deserve to be read.
  4. Shelf checks start to come in from other libraries as readers request the books. We send them off as quickly as we can as we know the waiting lists will soon become vast.
  5. We read about their publishing history, so we can think about which to recommend to the readers who come in never having read that author before and asking where they should start.
  6. We know that this flurry of intense interest is temporary and that saddens us. But this mass-reading of their works seems to us the most perfect act of collective mourning.  They will be read; they will be remembered.

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Poetic Goodbyes

PoohpromiseIn Great Expectations, Dickens writes, ‘Life is made of ever so many partings welded together.’ Saying goodbye can be difficult, so, as is my default, I’m turning to literature and poetry to find the right words. 

Parting Advice

Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata provides lovely parting advice:

‘Go placidly amidst the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story…

…Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here….

With all its shams, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful.

Strive to be happy.’

Leaving on a Jet Plane

When a loved one flies off for a long trip, I always think of At the San Francisco Airport by Yvor Winters. Here’s the final stanza:

‘This is the terminal, the break.
Beyond this point, on lines of air,
You take the way that you must take;
And I remain in light and stare—
In light, and nothing else, awake.’

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The Last Goodbye

Dylan Thomas powerfully expresses the emotions of loss in And Death Shall Have No Dominion where the title’s refrain has extraordinary rhetorical force. Also, Do Not Go Gentle into That Goodnight‘s desperate imperative deeply communicates the sadness and anger of impending death and the poet’s unreadiness to say goodbye. W.H Auden’s Funeral Blues is perfection in form, rhyme and sentiment. The world should not go on just the same after someone has been wrenched out of it prematurely:

‘The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun…’

I’m going to sign off with Alden Nowlan’s This is What I Wanted to Sign Off With. From the perspective of the unwell loved one at the end of life, it is simple, personal and lyrical: 

‘You know what I’m
like when I’m sick: I’d sooner
curse than cry. And people don’t often
know what they’re saying in the end.
Or I could die in my sleep.

So I’ll say it now. Here it is.
Don’t pay any attention
if I don’t get it right
when it is for real. Blame that
on terror and pain
or the stuff they’re shooting
into my veins. This is what I wanted to
sign off with. Bend
closer, listen, I love you.’

 

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