Monday, November 14, 2016

My Month of Sorrows

“November is the most disagreeable month in the whole year,” claimed Louisa May Alcott. Now, I don’t think it’s fair to single out one month from among the others as either the most disagreeable or even the most pleasant. Every month has its merits and its potential faults, but none are inherently disagreeable. I savour each and every one.

However, November is my month of sorrows. It was during this month, in years past, that I lost both of my parents and my eldest brother. And while my paternal grandfather died in November, too, his passing was an occasion for absence rather than loss, since it occurred long before I was born. So I increasingly find myself pensive and reflective during this month of the year, even as I am warmed by rich memories and deeply grateful for the magnificent gift of life.

In the case of my father and brother – and my grandfather before them – their deaths were premature, bringing to an end the hopes and promises that their lives still held. Dad was 54, my brother only 49, and afi* just 35. Having outlived them all, I can’t escape thinking of everything they missed – sunrises and sunsets, seasons and celebrations, seeing their own children struggle with the onset of middle age, watching the next generation come to life, not to mention the satisfactions of work left undone.

Mom’s death was accompanied more by a sense of fulfillment. Sure, I would have been pleased to have her around for another decade or so, but at 89, she had enjoyed a long and good life. While welcoming each new day, she had long since started winding up her affairs and preparing for her fate. Stoic and gracious to the end, she turned the last page of her life’s story and said goodbye.

Five years after Mom’s death, which came on All Souls Day in 2011, I’m tidying up the last remaining items related to her estate. Before the snow flies, her name will have been etched onto the gravestone marking the place where Dad’s remains rested for a third of century before she joined him there. The stone itself will be straightened, along with my maternal grandparents’ stone beside it, and the ground will be leveled. When that’s done, the site will be left to the keeping of eternity – and the annual ritual of bearing flowers in season and love the year round.

I’ll be relieved to be done contending with the insensitive, bureaucratic cemetery management, which has been annoyingly difficult to deal with, although a nagging voice in my head hints that public cemetery reform in Winnipeg may be the next cause I undertake.

And November will remain my month of sorrows – the thirty days of the year when I remember three of the people I have loved most deeply and another two known to me only through stories. It is my month of sorrows, but only because my loved ones who have departed in this month have been sources of such joy and delight.

As Kahlil Gibran wrote in The Prophet:

“Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.

“And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears. …

“When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy. 

“When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”

Stefan Jonasson on a November walk through ancestral fields at Hólahólar on Snæfellsnes.
(Photo by Cindy Jonasson.)

* Icelandic for grandfather.

This post appears as the editorial in the November 1, 2016, issue of