Holy Days

Widow’s Peak

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,

Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone…*

My mother had a pronounced widow’s peak. I suspect she found it to be a hairdressing inconvenience, but I always thought it created a beautiful frame for her face. Her features defined ladylike beauty for me: her slender nose and pale blue eyes, her long fingers and slim feet, and the mark of the peak on her forehead.

English folklore declared that a woman with such a peak in her hairline would outlive her husband, thus it’s name. And we do assume that women will outlive their male partners, who tend to be older and shorter-lived. We picture the widow’s grief.

Do we also visualize her relief, when a long-loved husband vanishes from reality as quickly as falling off a chair, or slips away gradually in an adjustable bed, or runs out of breathing room in a chest filling with fluid, or simply does not awaken one morning?

Fifty-seven years, sixty-three years…

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust…

My mother did not outlive my father. She withdrew gradually from the world, a shrinking vitality shielded from prying eyes. She turned her face to the window early on a spring evening and did not breathe again.

The nurses who cared for her feared my father would die upon hearing the news.

Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,

Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.*

I remember worrying about Bill‘s wife, dear and quiet, accustomed to accompaniment after more than six decades of marriage. The last time I saw her, she served me delicious iced tea and told me about the new friends she had met in her building and the fun she had at Bingo downstairs in the dining room.

Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

When the wound is fresh, and the tears flow freely, there are still glasses of cranapple juice served on a tray, as mementoes of a life together are shared when I visit.  I cannot make decisions, they tell me. Take your time, I reply. Take your time.

I am inclined to feel too much over small things, to let the deep grief fester unexpressed. Perhaps it is my way of surviving.

Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

If suddenly you do not exist,
if suddenly you are not living,
I shall go on living.

I do not dare,
I do not dare to write it,
if you die.

I shall go on living.**

*W.H. Auden, "Funeral Blues"

**Pablo Neruda, "The Dead Woman"

11 thoughts on “Widow’s Peak”

  1. ((songbird))
    my mom (also with widow’s peak I inherited) died before my dad — who actually did die because she did. And so I love Ash Wednesday and Lent — good excuses to remember we are dust, along with some other things.

  2. Really, really lovely.
    That Auden is one of my favorites. I puddle at that point of “Four Weddings and a Funeral” every time and your wonderful weaving of words today inspired the same reaction.

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