April 11, 2012


Roger Rosenblatt has written two books about the death of his daughter. “Making Toast” came soon after she passed away. The writing was an exercise to expatiate his grief, but it didn’t work. Two years later, he’s written another book on loss, this one entitled “Kayak Morning.”  He wrote it inresponse to a question his therapist put to him. What did Rosenblatt want to have happen?

The author’s answer came easily. He wanted his daughter back. But Rosenblatt is a wise man. He knew wishing couldn’t alter the past. So what did he want now that she was gone?

He wasn’t sure but for some reason, he took up kayaking, spending hours and hours alone on the water. In time, he healed… a little.

I thought about that interview when a Facebook friend ruminated on the ways  cultures think about death. Some seem to welcome it with special days and celebrations as if it were an old friend, a natural part of life’s rhythm. Why, he wondered, did western societies treat death as an obscenity and unnatural.

Not surprisingly, Dylan Thomas’ admonition to his dying father comes to mind: “Do not go gently into that good night…  Rage, Rage, against the dying of the light.” 

Whether death is natural or obscene, I don’t know but I tend to side with Dylan Thomas. The universe requires a conscious mind. Without it beauty cannot exist. Eyes are needed to see it; ears are required to hear it. Some cultures may attempt to embrace death as natural but I doubt such a philosophy comforts a father as he holds his dying child in his arms and watches as its tiny limbs grow limp. No, I doubt there is any thought of a natural cycle then. There is only a blade burrowing grief. And that is how it should be.