Archives for 15 March 2015

‘After the real world has passed away’

After the death of his wife, Edith, J. R. R. Tolkien wrote to his son Michael:

I do not feel quite ‘real’ or whole, and in a sense there is no one to talk to.… Since I came of age, and our 3 years separation was ended, we had shared all joys and griefs, and all opinions (in agreement or otherwise), so that I still often find myself thinking ‘I must tell E. about this’ – and then suddenly I feel like a castaway left on a barren island under a heedless sky after the loss of a great ship. I remember trying to tell Marjorie Incledon this feeling, when I was not yet thirteen after the death of my mother, and vainly waving a hand at the sky saying ‘it is so empty and cold’. And again I remember after the death of Fr Francis my ‘second father’ (at 77 in 1934), saying to C. S. Lewis: ‘I feel like a lost survivor into a new alien world after the real world has passed away’.

(Letters no. 332)

I am sad to report that these descriptions of feelings fit me rather exactly. My mother was a difficult person to deal with, and nearly impossible to talk to; she had the fixed habit of listening to the first half-dozen words that you said, ignoring the rest, and then responding to what she imagined you might have said; and she had a short and fearsome temper. Our relationship could be charitably described as ‘fraught’; yet one has, as a rule, only one mother, and whatever she may be, one feels the loss when she is gone. My father was my chief friend, supporter, and confidant for many years, and I still miss him terribly. Now that I have lost them both, and in rapid succession, I feel rather like the little girl from London in the Second World War, who was interviewed by a reporter after losing her home and family in the Blitz: ‘Now I am nobody’s nothing.’ It is a disorienting and indeed frightening feeling.


A postscriptum about practical matters: It will probably take some months to settle my parents’ affairs, but once that is done I can expect to come into a small inheritance, which if used frugally, will keep the wolf from the door for some time while I get my bearings and (I hope) find a way to make my work pay my bills. I thank all those generous donors who have helped me through my recent difficulties with gifts of money (and still more, of time, attention, and care). I believe I shall be all right for the time being.

Maria Auxiliadora Shearer, 1927–2015

I am sad to report that my mother died about 4 p.m. (MDT) yesterday. I managed to pay her a short visit before the end; she was drifting in and out of consciousness, unable to speak, and I am not sure whether she recognized me. She seemed to have suffered a stroke or some other cerebral catastrophe, for all the muscle tone had gone out of her face, and her lower lip had curved back in on itself to cover her gums. Her face was unrecognizable; it was the characteristic pattern of the arthritis in her right hand (the left was under the bedclothes) that proved to me that I was in the right room.

She had been married to my father for 52 years, and had no desire to outlive him; and indeed she took such poor care of herself (being a fairly heavy smoker and drinker for as long as I can remember, and disdaining to eat regular meals) that we were surprised she lived as long as she did. Once my father was gone, she went into what soon proved to be a terminal decline. At any rate she is at peace now, for the first time in many years; God rest her soul.

Thanks very much for all the prayers and messages from my 3.6 Loyal Readers and other friends.