Some time ago, I wrote a post about King David and his son Absalom called “Death in the Wood of Ephraim.” It has subsequently become one of our favorites, not just for the writing and photography, but from the remarkable comments that followed.
In the writing, I reflected on the origin of song, wondering if it was to be found as an expression of joy or of sorrow. My sister Ann wrote “Both are pure, both stem from the depths of our beings … they simply differ in source. Which came first? The briefest song of innocence, I think. Followed swiftly by lamentation.” My brother John Paul, who is a French horn player in Boston, wrote with another possibility: “Personally, from my experience as a performer, I suspect the origins might lie in our need to express certain emotions (joy, sorrow, lamentation, etc – are they really that different from one another?) in a unified manner. In other words – song allows groups of us to express feelings together – as one.”
I write today because the three of us, along with my brother David, have lost a sibling to a virulent and implacable cancer. Stephen Blaisdell Aubrey was the third of five of the children, and we all mourn him today. His ashes were scattered in his beloved ocean, but it is not our mourning that is the subject today. “Death in the Wood of Ephraim” was an expression of the loss of a child by a parent. David, upon hearing of the death of his rebellious son Absalom, cast himself down and cried out “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Samuel 18:33).
The night we heard of Steve’s passing, my mother and father, Ann (who had flown in from Brazil), John Paul, PJ and I were together for dinner, just three miles from where he died with his wife Jan and his children Montana and Chance in his presence. Despite our knowing that his end was imminent, we were all shattered by the loss. As we gathered around and held her, my mother could only echo the words of David, “Why couldn’t it have been me? Why didn’t God take me?” How could we tell her what we all felt, that her death would have been just as crushing for us all, and the thought of my father without his beloved wife of 66 years is impossible to contemplate. The loss of a loved one can not be made whole by the loss of another.
When brother David heard the news, he came over to join us and the family was together to mourn Steve’s loss. We all stood in awe of the grief of our parents. The blessing that had been bestowed on us to share their lives as they reach the deep winter of their years is tempered by a loss which they should never have experienced.
In his most moving elegy on the death of his brother Gerard, Bernard of Clairvaux wrote, ” It seems to me that I can almost hear my brother saying: “Can a woman forget the son of her womb? And if she should forget, yet I will not forget you.” This is how it must be. You know how I am situated, how dejected in spirit, how your departure has affected me; there is none to give me a helping hand.”
We are not alone, and the helping hands of parents, siblings, Steve’s family, and our friends all reach out to help us in our pain. But there is nothing that can be done to touch that kernel of agony deep inside, inside the place where I personally fear I was not a good enough brother to him. I dream of him almost every night, perhaps hoping to hear his words of forgiveness.
Ann wrote an appreciation of Steve on her blog, which might give you a sense of Steve as a man.