because it sounds like some vague literary term, or a pernicious disease

Would I Were As Steadfast As Thou Art

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Perhaps, if you have been reading the various news feeds available across the urban sprawl of the Internets you may have come across this news snippet from the Associated Press :

Once I got over the condescension oozing from the reporter’s voice and only briefly focused on the ick factor that one immediately associates with the idea of lingering around the deceased, I was saddened and reminded of William Faulkner’s short story, A Rose For Emily.

You can read A Rose For Emily here, its brief, and not at all like The Sound and The Fury, which is impossible to read, instead its written in Faulkner’s usual literary voice, and quite a haunting tale. Haunting not in the way that its terrifying or will unnerve you, although perhaps I am just a little dark and find such things terribly romantic instead of disturbing and you will find it unnerving. A Rose For Emily strikes a chord with me because in the five short parts of the story it speaks of loneliness, isolation and the very things that make us human, the desire to love and be loved, and the failings of society, Faulkner himself stated that Emily “was a woman who had had a tragedy, an irrevocable tragedy and nothing could be done about it, and I pitied her and this was a salute (…)”.

In A Rose For Emily, Emily keeps the corpse of her alleged lover/husband in a bridal chamber in her home, and lies beside his remains every night. It is alluded that she killed him as well, but that’s not so much the point here. Written from the perspective of the town in which she lives, it’s tone ranges from ironic and confessional to hopeful and dare I say it, even romantic. But it’s also just a story. For Mrs. Stevens, the woman in the news clip above, it’s her life.

It’s not that hard to imagine why 91-year-old Jean Stevens would want to keep the remains of her twin sister and husband of over 60 years with her. It’s sad, and I feel compassion and empathy for her. She seems like a delightful, loving woman who just was not able to say goodbye and grieve in the way that our society has deemed “healthy” by the general standards of such things. I did some further digging (pardon that) and the local newspaper in her town stated Mrs. Stevens will be able to keep the remains of her loved ones on her property if she wishes to do so, provided they are housed in an appropriate mausoleum or crypt and she will not be charged with any crimes.

Our natural reaction to such things is revulsion, repulsion or immediately sticking a label on such behaviour, writing it off as mentally unstable or sick. Or worse, we mock – when we should strive to understand, and empathize. She’s lonely, her loved ones passed on and I think she was failed by society. Grief is deeply personal, and while there are measures in place by governing bodies and regulations to ensure public safety and dignified handling of human remains, I think her choices in how she expressed her grief are beyond anything that anyone other than Mrs. Stevens can fully understand.

All I hope is that Mrs. Stevens gets the support and compassion she clearly needs, and that the rest of her life is peaceful and filled with the love she so clearly demonstrates, poor, dear lady.


Written by Lindsey

July 7, 2010 at 10:00 pm

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