I pushed aside the overgrown weeds covering the few forgotten graves in an out-of-the way corner of a mission school in the middle of Turkey. A small weather-beaten tombstone reads
In that day's stillness and cool breeze moving the leaves sadness sweeps over me, standing as I do where a century earlier the Wingates stood, placing their small infant in the ground. They are people I never knew but whose grief I have touched through accompanying other parents to the burial site of their infant. My guess is that the infant herself, as well as the out-of-the-way burial site in Turkey, is now absent to the memory of today's generation of the family. That thought dampens my spirit even more.
For so many years of my life, death saddened me because of the grief I saw it bringing into the lives of others. But, being a person who organizes life around what is to come, not what has been or is, I move quickly away from anguishing present to anticipatory future.
Now words of the early seventeenth century English writer John Donne I oft quoted at funerals are freshly real: "No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."
A lifetime of dealing with losses certainly has made me more acquiescent toward the inevitable endings I find in my living and loving. Yet, counteracting this familiarity is the weightiness of cumulative losses. I find that even the grief of parents, unknown to me, over the death of their fifteen-month-old daughter is part of that accumulation.
Increasing the heaviness of grief is the isolation dictated by our society. Very quickly we are expected to be 'normal' and the words or looks of others squelch expressions of loss in our words or mood. More subtly, even courses in grief 'management' assume a control of and a rational hurrying along of the process. How much truer is Donne for the human spirit.
For I am every dead thing,
In whom love wrought new alchemy.
I was linked to the Wingates-separated by a century-through
working at the school at which they gave so much of themselves.
I look up from the grave and see the school, now closed for the
past forty years. Another loss.
--Robert H. Tucker
15 February 1999