Sorrowing For The Dead
( Originally Published 1879 )
OUR friends may die and leave our hearts and homes. desolate for a time; we cannot prevent it, nor would it be best if we could. Sorrow has its useful lessons. when it is legitimate, and death is the gate that opens out of earth toward the house "eternal in the heavens." If we lose them, heaven gains them. If we mourn,, they rejoice. If we hang our harps on the willows,, they tune theirs in the eternal orchestra above, rejoicing that we shall soon be with them. Shall we not drown. our sorrow in the flood of light let through the rent vail of the skies which Jesus entered, and, to cure our loneliness, gather to us other friends to walk life's way, knowing that every step brings us nearer the departed, and their sweet, eternal home, which death never enters, and where partings are never known? We may still love the departed. They are ours as ever, and we are theirs. The ties that unite us are not broken. They are too strong for death's stroke. They .are made for the joys of eternal friendship. Other friendships on earth will not disturb these bonds that link with dear ones on high. Nor will our duties below interfere with the sacredness of our relations with them. They wish not to see us in sorrow. They doubtless sympathize with us, and could we hear their sweet voices, they would tell us to dry our tears and bind ourselves to other friends, and joyfully perform all duties on earth till our time to ascend shall come.
" The sorrow for the dead," says Irving, "is the only sorrow from which we refuse to be divorced. Every other wound we seek to heal, every other affliction to forget; but this wound we consider it a duty to keep open; this affliction we cherish and brood over in solitude.
"Where is the mother who would willingly forget the infant that perished like a blossom from her arms, though every recollection is a pang? Where is the child that would willingly forget the most tender of parents, though to remember be but to lament? Who, even in the hour of agony, would forget the friend over whom he mourns? Who, even when the tomb is closing upon the remains of her he most loved; when he feels his heart, as it were, crushed in the closing of its portal, would accept of consolation that must be bought by forgetfulness?
"No, the love which survives the tomb is one of the noblest attributes of the soul. If it has its woes, it has likewise its delights; and when the. overwhelming burst of grief is calmed into the gentle tear of recollection, when the sudden anguish and the convulsive agony over the ruins of all that we most loved is softened away into pensive meditation on all that it was in the days of its loveliness, who would root out such a sorrow from the heart?
"Though it may sometimes throw a passing cloud over the bright hour of gayety, or spread a deeper sadness over the hour of gloom, yet who would exchange it even for the song of pleasure or the burst of revelry? No, there is a voice from the tomb sweeter than song. There is a remembrance of the dead to which we turn even from the charms of the living.
"Oh, the grave! the grave! ' It buries every error, covers every defect, extinguishes every resentment. From its peaceful bosom spring none but fond regrets and tender recollections. Who can look upon the grave even of an enemy and not feel a compunctious throb that he should, ever have warred with the poor handful of earth that lies mouldering before him?
"But the grave of those we loved, what a place for meditation! There it is that we call up in long review the whole history of virtue and gentleness, and the thousand endearments lavished upon us almost unheeded in the daily intercourse of intimacy. There it is that we dwell upon the tenderness, the solemn, awful tenderness of the parting scene.
"The bed of death, with all its stifled griefs, its noise-less attendants, its mute, watchful assiduities, the last testimonies of expiring love, the feeble, fluttering, thrilling, oh, how thrilling! pressure of the hand. The last fond look of the glazing eye, turning upon us even from the threshold of existence. The faint, faltering accents struggling in death to give one more assurance of affection. Ay, go to the grave of buried love, and meditate! There settle the account with thy conscience for every past benefit unrequited, every past endearment unregarded, of that departed being who can neveróneverónever return to be soothed by thy contrition!
"If thou art a child, and hast ever added a sorrow to the soul or a furrow to the silver brow of an affectionate parent; if thou art a husband, and hast ever caused the fond bosom that ventured its whole happiness in thy arms, to doubt one moment of thy kindness or thy truth; if thou art a friend, and hast ever wronged, in thought, or word, or deed, the spirit that generously confided in thee; if thou art a lover, and hast given one unmerited pang to that true heart which now lies cold and stilt beneath thy feet, then be sure that every unkind look, every ungracious word, every ungentle action, will come thronging back upon thy memory, and knocking dolefully at thy soul; then be sure that thou wilt lie down sorrowing and repentant on the grave, and utter the unheard groan, and pour the unavailing tear, more deep, more bitter, because unheard and unavailing.
" Then weave thy chaplet of flowers, and strew the beauties of nature about the grave; console thy broken spirit, if thou cant, with these tender, yet futile tributes of regret; but take warning by the bitterness of this thy contrite affliction over the dead, and henceforth be more faithful and affectionate in the discharge of thy duties to the living."