“In this world
the living grow fewer
the dead increase
how much longer must I
carry this body of grief?”
The above lines and those at the end are from a book of medieval Japanese poetry by two poets Ono no Kamachi and Izumi Shaikibu. These two women were members of the Heian court of Medieval Japan. I quote these lines because I too am finding my life increasingly strewn with dead leaves and “the living grow fewer”. Yesterday I heard the tragic news of another person in my dwindling circle. She was not a friend but someone I watched over the years grow fresh, fruitful, mellow and finally wither till she stiffened into a twig of time’s passing landscape.
Her name was Julie, God bless her. About six months ago I wrote about the passing of Dave who used to live opposite me. I talked of a woman called Susan who he gave shelter to and cared for and she in turn took turns to look after him in the days before his death. Well, I can now reveal her name was Julie. Because Julie is no more. She passed away two days ago peacefully in her sleep. She was I should say about twenty years younger than Dave and it is a tragedy that shocked me when I heard the news.
I did not know Julie at all well except to exchange a few words in passing and to keep track of the peaks and troughs of her life. I first bumped into her literally in the dark early dawn streets as I returned from night duty and she was hurrying to her early shift as a carer. She was pretty, with a fresh willing smile and dark curly hair. We exchanged greetings shyly. She went on to have children, cope with lovers and struggle with the snare of alcohol. In the last days, as she came to tell me of Dave’s passing, she looked very thin and pale. I was concerned but I did not know her well enough to ask. Now, suddenly, Mrs. Green from two doors away tells me that this flower I watched blossom is now dead.
We honour many heroes. Some happen to be in the right time and place to do their brave deed; some just are so well known that anything they do becomes heroic; some are thrown into the spotlight by a sudden event. Julie was a hero but she was none of the above. She struggled quietly with her life. Alcohol was her particular demon. Dave gave her a respite and a few years of happiness as she did to him. When he passed away he broke the stick she leaned on. In the last years she bought herself a house and tried to get her brood together under one roof for a proper family life. But Father Time stood outside her door with his relentless impatience. We can only show our respects to a wonderful soul and honour her as a hero.
grown fragile, floating,
a reed cut from its roots . . .
If a stream would ask me
to follow, I’d go, I think”
Good Bye Julie! God bless you!