Last week I heard the sad news that a family member had died. Not a relative whom I knew very well but the difficult circumstances of his life and death caused great pain to his nearest and dearest. The least I could do was send them a card. Preferably one with an English greeting. So off I set into the centre of town, on my bike, in August. Are you totally off your rocker, my sensible self asked me. And she was right. The centre of town is teeming with tourists who have had their eyes and ears removed before departing for their holiday in Amsterdam.
One Condolence Card to Choose From
By the time I arrived at Waterstones, my blood was boiling after dealing with inept cyclists, lobotomised pedestrians and post gay pride debris. Then, to top it all, I discovered that Waterstones carry just ONE design of condolence card, which wasn’t very attractive and cost € 4,50! All other milestones in life were represented in abundance; birthdays, weddings, births, new jobs, moving house and navel piercings. You name it; there was a card to mark it. But death? Oh no, expats don’t suffer from that embarrassing complaint, do they?
Expats Must Live the Life of Riley…
Did I buy aforesaid, ludicrously priced card? No I didn’t and not because I’m tight with money. If it was a beautiful card I would have happily paid that price, but it wasn’t. And it was the principle of the thing. How about the Americans, I thought? Do they have deaths in their families? Girding my loins yet again I dashed between the visually-challenged visitors and crossed the road to the American Book Center. Well, it appears American expats cleverly dodge bereavment and have no need of condolence cards either. But at least the ABC only carries tourist postcards, which somehow seemed less injurious. And besides, ABC is a brilliant independent bookstore (they once agreed to stock an anthology I contributed to) so self-interest demands I don’t knock them too much.
Mary Elizabeth Frye
A Dutch card would just have to do, so on the way back to the sanity of Amsterdam’s outskirts I stopped at a corner tobacconist run by Chinese immigrants. Plenty of choice finally! I chose a Hallmark card and just hope that my relatives won’t mind the Dutch greeting too much. I will also send them this poem, written by housewife, Mary Elizabeth Frye which I have always found very moving. I discovered it was written to comfort a Jewish woman who had fled her native Germany because of anti-Semitism and was devastated because she couldn’t attend her mother’s funeral. The German refugee told Frye she had been denied the chance to stand at her mother’s grave and shed a tear, which gave Frye the first line of her poem;
Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft star-shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die.