Thursday, September 30, 2010

birthdays, rivers, and cemeteries

Six years ago, I spent my birthday at the cemetery; Matt was away on a yearly retreat. I've always loved old cemeteries, so this was not out of character. Plus, this one has woods and water, so it is extra nice. Wandering around, wondering about all the people, their stories, their lives, trying to figure out who is related to whom, and by what routes.  Reading so much in the simple names and dates: the sea captain who seems to have married several sisters, each one in turn, as one after another of them died; the wives who appear to have died in childbirth; the sons and daughters whose death dates far precede their parents; connecting birth and death dates to historical events, guessing as to what was going on.

Five years ago, it rained for two weeks solid, between Matt's and my birthdays. We planned a camping trip for his birthday, but found our usual campsites washed out by the rain. We spent the night in a hotel, and drove out to the river in the morning. We set up camp beside the river, already fast and flooded from the rain. We made camp breakfast, which includes an insane amount of food, as he didn't like to have leftovers to pack back out. As we sat by the fire, eating breakfast and reading his birthday books, the river rose. In the few hours we were there, it split the banks, turned into waterfalls and rapids, devoured rocks that were tall stepping stones when we'd arrived. Watching from the banks, it was so beautiful - dangerous, amazing.

Matt loved rivers. He needed them. Most of our adventures included rivers of some kind, from the very first place he took me from his childhood, to the Colorado, the Swift, the Rainbow, the Mississippi. The river where he died was our sanctuary; it was refuge from the stresses of living in a populated world. Last year, July 12th was the first dry sunny day in nearly 6 solid weeks of rain. The river was flooded, fast, dangerous and amazing, though we had no idea of that until it was too late.

So it occurs to me this morning, the river has always been beside us, and I have always been walking in cemeteries, alone.


  1. Rivers. Yes. They figured so large in our lives too. Now, can barely endure being away from them. The house in Nova Scotia is just above a fast-moving brook so that the sound of rushing water fills the air every moment of the day. I love to stand in the garden at night and listen to the waters. I left home a couple of days ago and am already missing my river. I'm not sure how I would feel about rivers if I had experienced a loss such as yours. Are you okay with being near them? Are they comforting, or disturbing now?

    Cemeteries. There is a large old one across from my place. I didn't even know it was there until the first morning at the house. I took the dogs for a walk out back of my place and from that vantage point, could see that the tall granite dome of a hill across the road from me was home to a large old cemetery - a very old one with stone gates and interesting monuments. My neighbours are very quiet. Together, we listen to our river.

    I don't know if wishing you a happy birthday is quite appropriate. For myself, I probably would not think so. Instead, I will wish you a thoughtful birthday - one filled with good thoughts and memories.

  2. hoo boy, that last sentence knocked the wind out of me, for some reason. so are you at the river today, or the cemetery? i wish you as good as birthday as it is possible to have. family, friends, solitude. cake, wind and water, standing stones, whatever it is what it is??
    i love you
    i wish this wasn't how we knew each other.

  3. So sad, yet so beautiful.

  4. I have to say the same thing as throughawidowseyes...that last line was painful poetry. It made my eyes sting with tears. <3 love you Meg, I really do...and hope for you so many good things.

  5. bev - I still love rivers. I still need them. Last year, I went back to our spot to swim. I knew if I didn't, I never would. I went back several times, but just can't bring myself there this year. And that, in itself, breaks my heart. I know I can't withstand it right now, but I also need the solitude. I take boris to a big dog park with a couple of ponds, but it is populated, and certainly not a river. Both of us have lost out. But Boris particularly loves to play in the rapids that are safe rapids any other day but that july 12th, and THAT I know I couldn't watch.
    C (tawe)and WL - that line gets me too. I'd forgotten about the cemetery birthday until that morning, and connected it to matt's river birthday. For me, especially now, I believe our death is always inside us, whatever that death is. So that river really has been beside us all our lives.
    DD - I kind of hate that it's beautiful, but that is also true.