From the jacket flap: “Several months after my wife’s suicide [at Niagara Falls], I began this journal [which takes the form of letters to her] as a way to cope with overwhelming grief.”

“As I approach my 60th year I’m more and more conscious of Time’s winged chariot–the last gallop before death that Jung calls the age of meaning. ike those jerky frames in the early silent films, the days flip speedily past, an as my future contracts every moment becomes more precious. Or to employ a different metaphor (perhaps more apt in your case) I feel I’m being swept along on a frothing river knowing the Falls is not too distant. In his memoir of childhood, The Sacred Journey, Frederick Buechner, whose father shot himself when Buechner was ten, poses the question that has obsessed these kaddishes: What is God saying when a good person takes their life? A moment comes into being and it goes on forever, he writes, not just in memory but as though it had a life of its own in a new kind of time, what Dylan Thomas described as “below a time”–a “having-beenness” beyond any power in heaven or on earth, in life or death, to touch–and the people we knew and loved continue to grow and change with us till we finish our days, that you will continue to touch my life and the lives of our children with power and richness.”

–from A Mourner’s Kaddish: Suicide and the Recovery of Hope, by James Clarke

Clarke is a judge of the Superior Court in Ontario, Canada and lives in Guelph. He is also the author of seven collections of poetry, including How to Bribe a Judge: Poems from the Bench.

8 Replies to “A MOURNER’S KADDISH”

  1. Used to work in Guelph in the then Illustration Services of the University of Guelph. Still travel through the city a few times a year as my mom lives in a little village about 25 minutes away. Many good things began in Guelph, not the least of which is our newest Canadian Cardinal, Thomas Collins.

    We were married not far from Guelph. The city is home to one of my favourite bicycle shops anywhere and the Church of Our Lady Immaculate sits atop the highest point of land in the city of which the founder of Guelph, novelist and Protestant Scot who granted that land to the Catholic Church said, "On this hill would one day rise a church to rival St. Peter's in Rome."

    I know the theme of the post is more one of mourning and introspection as life ebbs out but seeing "Guelph" I had to note some happy feelings…

  2. Anonymous says: Reply

    Here's a mystery: yesterday I watched Kevin Costner, music mogul Clive Davis, and the sister of Whitney Houston talk about Whitney at her funeral service in a Baptist Church in New Jersey. All trying perhaps to answer the question: "What is God saying when a good person takes their life?" I was not knowledgeable about Whitney's music, and have no connection to any of the people at the funeral, but I could not stop my tears during the tender words of these friends of one who has now gone. The answer for me is "I know things you don't know, they will be revealed at some later time, it's okay to cry, and–as Costner said about Whitney about to sing before God–'you will be good enough [for me]'".

    We do not know the hour or the day, so we cherish every minute.

    John W. White
    Purcellville, VA

  3. Anonymous says: Reply

    I read the following just yesterday in a piece about Robert Coles. It's from his book Lives We Carry With Us, and quotes an elderly New Mexican man describing his wife of over 60 years:

    "She is not just an old woman, you know. She wears old age like a bunch of fresh-cut flowers. She is old, advanced in years, vieja, but in Spanish we have another word for her, a word which tells you that she has grown with all those years. I think that is something one ought hope for and pray for and work for all during life: to grow, to become not only older but a bigger person. She is old, all right, vieja, but I will dare say this in front of her—she is una anciana . . .".

  4. What is a good person saying to God when they take their own life or the lives of their unborn?

  5. I like this range from happy, to lost in wonder, to nostalgic, to challenging…I want to be una anciana!

  6. Yes, I love the 'una anciana' too! Part of my huge gratitude in aging sobriety is around this–we really need a word for it in English. Any anciana I have going for me is directly thanks to sobriety, Mass, Rosary, Stations of the Cross, family/ friends, a million books by Saints–am in October of my current saint's book–Heather, Shirt of Flame is great! Going to buy copies for my sisters who are neither sober nor joyful and their skin is six years more wrinkled than my own. Maybe they'll catch sobriety and Catholicism from you; such would be a splendored thing!

  7. Anonymous says: Reply

    I have been seeking an answer to this since Jan 18th, 1991 when my Dad killed himself.

    There aren't concrete answers:
    it's always a beginning, sometimes you get to a middle-point-but, never an ending.

  8. Anonymous says: Reply

    Barbara–yes, tolerating ambiguity, living with paradox. Never a concrete answer. For me, that means turning with wonder to the source of all mystery and paradox–Jesus, and Calvary.

    John White
    Purcellville, VA

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