When I Am Dead

Because we live in a death denying society those faced with the death of loved ones often feel that they are left facing the inevitable void alone. I have a small copy of the work of Ella Wheeler Wilcox and the page opened at this poem. The truth is that when you talk about death you learn about how to live.

When I am dead, if some chastened one,
Seeing the item, or hearing it said
That my play is over, and my part done,
And I lie asleep in my narrow bed —
If I could know that some soul would say,
Speaking aloud or silently,
In the heat, and burden of the day,
She gave a refreshing draught to me;

Or, when I was lying nigh unto death,
She nursed me to life, and to strength again,
And when I labored and struggled for breath,
She soothed and quieted down my pain;

Or, when I was groping in grief and doubt,
Lost, and turned from the light o’ the day,
Her hand reached me and helped me out,
And led me up to the better way;

Or, when I was hated and shunned by all,
Bowing under my sin and my shame,
She, once, in passing me by, let fall
Words of pity and hope that came
Into my heart, like a blessed calm
Over the waves of the stormy sea,
Words of comfort like oil and balm,
She spake, and the desert blossomed for me;

Better by far, than a marble tomb —
Than a monument towering over my head;
(What shall I care, in my quiet room,
For head board or foot board, when I am dead)
Better than glory, or honors, or fame,
(Though I am striving for those to-day)
To know that some heart will cherish my name,
And think of me kindly, with blessings, alway.

by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Copyright 1873
Hauser & Storey, Milwaukee

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  • thalia  On August 7, 2011 at 12:43 pm

    so true – thanks for sharing

  • Anita Marie  On August 7, 2011 at 5:37 pm

    One of the stories I heard was that people wore black in mourning to seperate them from the living ( so that they can grieve, I guess ) and I also heard that ghosts can’t see black- so you’d be hidden from them too.

    When I became a Morticians Apprentice I refused to wear black- I wore fushias and yellows- colors I remember seeing in my grandmother’s garden in Hawaii.

    I did this because my job was to interact with the dead, and the living so hiding from either world seemed counterproductive to me.

  • QuinnCreative  On August 7, 2011 at 6:26 pm

    We fear death because we might leave some life unlived–the best protection against that fear then, is to live life every day–to the fullest. It’s hard, but when death appears, there is less to fear.

  • stephanie  On August 7, 2011 at 9:25 pm

    Yesterday a lovely new acquaintance gave me a lift into Charlottetown, PEI for the day and picked me up later after her work and we had dinner together. We spoke much about death because her husband died last year and the 4th anniversary of Seanna’s death is this week, August 11th. We were not sombre at all. We laughed a lot about people’s reactions to the subject and their strange attempts to deflect us from broaching the subject at all. We enjoyed being able to talk openly about our loves and losses and spent most of the time talking about the dreams we’ve had of our beloved’s and our many small ways of moving on. Death is normal. It should not be treated black and mean and mysterious and bleak.

    I am so very grateful you posted this today Heather. Thank you.


  • almurta  On August 8, 2011 at 5:09 am

    I agree that our society denies death and that people don’t know how to respond to those who are grieving.
    Have been watching the show on ABC where Judith Lucey speaks of how the death of her parents propelled her into soul searching and a spiritual journey? I think the process of grieving can lead us to ask deep question about life. The pain and sorrow of grief can be triggers that lead us on a spiritual quest. That has certainly been my experience

  • imogen88  On August 10, 2011 at 10:35 am

    Good stuff, Heather. I know I have read some of her work a time back. Yes, a good thing she wrote these words.

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