Thursday, January 31, 2008

Sedulia - An Interview

First, Sedulia, sincerest condolences on the death of your loved one. Please tell us about yourself, and your family.

Hello Linda. I come from a big family in southern Louisiana, and I now have a fairly big family myself. I have been living in Paris, and now I live in Los Angeles. Without making a big deal out of it, I prefer to stay anonymous.

How did your website come about?

I was so deeply shocked when my father died.

He died the way we would probably all like to go, at home with his wife and all his children around him, my sister reading a prayer, dawn breaking on a beautiful day. He had somehow held on while I came from France and one of my sisters came all the way from Africa. Hours after his last child arrived by his side, he died peacefully. I believe people who are ill can often somehow choose when to let go.

I had lost other people who mattered to me-- my grandparents, an uncle I loved, a cousin killed in the Marines, classmates, and even a close friend killed in a motorcycle accident. I had thought I was ready for my father's death, because he had been ill for a long time. But it didn't help. Death was so BIG, so impersonal to have happened to someone I loved, and I had loved him so much. I wasn't prepared for the sudden grief that overwhelmed me when I heard music or singing. I remember sitting in a theater in Paris with tears flooding down my face in the dark. Why were all these people alive, and he wasn't? I felt angry whenever I saw a man his age. Why was he alive, and my father wasn't? For a few months after my father died, I felt as if I was out of breath all the time. I would see something that was perfect for his Christmas present (his present was always my favorite one to buy-- he was whimsical and literary) and for a second or two of happiness I would forget that he was gone. I wasn't prepared for the loss of his love for me. He had always understood and loved me better than anyone else in my family. I can't even imagine how my mother felt. She is not the kind of person who talks about her grief, but he was her best friend and companion.

The smallest word of kindness helped. "I'm sorry about your father." I was surprised how much that meant to me.

I was surprised by the sharp image of loss I get now when I hear on the radio that ten people were killed in Iraq-- it seems more real than it ever did before.

Even today, it makes me sad that my children, who were raised in Europe, never got to know my father as I had hoped. They never knew him well, they don't miss him, and that makes me sad too. It's the way of all flesh to be forgotten eventually, I know. But this brings that to life so strongly.

I visited and found it to be a wonderful website. I, personally, find it most encouraging. Where did your idea come from? How often do you post, and where do you pull ideas from?

When I was so sad, no one around me could make me feel better. I sort of mentally went into a cave, doing everything like an automaton. My brothers and sisters all went home to other states, and I stayed with my mother for a couple of extra weeks; she needed company and both of us felt fragile. My father loved poetry, and a week or two after he died, I was reading Time or Newsweek and I came across a wonderful quotation by Rabindranath Tagore :

Those who are near me do not know that you are nearer to me than they are
Those who speak to me do not know that my heart is full with your unspoken word
Those who crowd in my path do not know that I am walking alone with you
They who love me do not know that their love brings you to my heart.

It was the first time I realized that poetry could help me. Tagore said exactly what I was feeling and made me feel less alone. Emily Dickinson helped a lot, too. She was a favorite of my father's.

The bustle in a house
The morning after death
Is solemnest of industries
Enacted upon earth,--
The sweeping up the heart,
And putting love away
We shall not want to use again
Until eternity.

Since I was fourteen or fifteen I had kept a commonplace book, a notebook where I had collected quotations I like. I also copied quotations from what I was reading into my diary. So now I went hunting for poetry that consoled, and read and reread it. Somehow it helped to know that other people had felt just the same way, centuries earlier.

A few years ago, actually years after my father's death, I realized that instead of keeping these quotations shut up in a notebook in a cupboard, I could put them up on the internet for other people to see. And that it might help someone who was going through the first sharp pangs of grief, or the later softer sadness that is still intense. So I set up Consolation.

I put things up whenever I find them. Sometimes I go looking, or translate things. I love to find just the right photograph to make a quotation more poignant. I think the internet is wonderful.

What have you gotten out of writing ? Do you find it rewarding? Do you realize what a help you are to someone going through the grief process?

I don't know if it helps anyone. It helps me, though.

How long are you writing? Are you published? Please tell us about your writing niche. Is there something special you are working on at this time? Can you share?

I've been writing a lot all my life, but aside from a brief fling with getting paid for it before I had children, I've never had a writing job or published a book. I had a blog when I was in Paris, called Rue Rude, which was fun to do. Now I'm in California, I feel the urge to do something different. I'm not sure what yet.

And finally, Sedulia, please share with Griefcase readers, one favorite tip for getting through the grief process. Do you have one?

In China, writing poetry is considered a good therapy for grief. Everyone literate used to write it. I find writing down your feelings helps-- it also helps not to overburden those around you. My mother has another way. She plunges into her work, which is at a charity. She says doing something to help other people is the best way to overcome your own grief.

Linda, I admire you for how you reacted to your own grief. I think you have encouraged so many people. Grief doesn't go away, but it does become softer and more bearable with time. It can become a loving memory instead of an ever-present heavy sadness. That is what I think you help people realize with your "mourning joy." Thanks for that.


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