The lines of Rilke that Shostakovich set at the end of his Fourteenth Symphony, a symphonic song cycle about death, have been on my mind lately:Death is great.
We are his
when our mouths are filled with laughter.
When we think we are in the midst of life,
he dares to weep
in our midst.
For me, the weeping is inseparably entangled with my memories of the adventures that Hilary and I shared during the decade and a half that we spent together, many of which I chronicled in this space. To think of them now is inevitably to remember my loss, and weep at the thought of it. I weep, too, whenever I listen to music, which fills me to overflowing with emotions of every kind: Hilary loved music above all things, and we shared it most days. For a long time I couldn’t listen to it—to anything—but now I have started to bring it back into my life, which I hope is a sign of something good.As I mentioned back in April, I plan to scatter Hilary’s ashes on Florida’s Sanibel Island, the place she loved best. I hope to do so in December if the pandemic permits. The last words I spoke to her before she was wheeled into the operating room for her transplant were “Get through this in one piece, my love, and I’ll take you to Sanibel for Christmas.” And so I shall.
In the meantime, my solitude has been relieved: I have turned Hilary’s old bedroom into a guest room, and I took in an old friend in need last week. It is more comforting than I could have imagined to no longer live alone, to share my home with someone who knew Hilary well and with whom I can reminisce about her in the dark and unsparing hours. It was the solitude that was killing me, slowly but surely, and at last I am spared that once-ceaseless ache.
As for my grief, I now understand in the fullest sense that I have no control over it, and that it will last for a very long time. All I can do is take the smallest of steps out of the maze, and accept that I will continue to search blindly for the exit, perhaps for the rest of my life. Whatever awaits me in the future has yet to unfold itself—but I think I can live with that. Hilary would have wanted me to do so, and I will do all I can to honor her wishes, to remember that I was fortunate to have her for as long as I did, and to have had the privilege of caring for my beloved partner as she gallantly approached the dark rendezvous. I will miss her as long as I live.
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“Conclusion,” from Shostakovich’s Fourteenth Symphony, performed by Galina Vishnevskaya, Mark Reshetin, Mstislav Rostropovich, and the Academic Symphony Orchestra of Moscow:
Imelda Staunton sings Stephen Sondheim’s “Losing My Mind,” from Follies: