I have a complicated relationship with Canadian poet and novelist Helen Humphreys’ poignant memoir Nocturne – On the Life and Death of My Brother.
I met Humphreys at a literary event and we had a conversation about the parallels in our lives:
- She lost her brother to pancreatic cancer;
- I lost my long-term partner Bill to pancreatic cancer; I also know the grief of losing a brother – my brother (we were only thirteen months apart in age) committed suicide in the same year that Bill died;
- Music and literature play a big role in Humphreys’ life: she is an author and her brother was a concert pianist;
- Music and literature play a big role in my life: I am a writer and play the piano and Bill was a teacher of piano and voice;
- Humphreys wrote Nocturne in part as a way to process her grief on the loss of her brother;
- I wrote my memoir August Farewell – the last sixteen days of a thirty-three year romance in part as a way to process my grief on the loss of Bill;
- Humphreys is a lesbian and I am a gay man.
I have highlighted many of Humphreys’ sentences and paragraphs in my copy of Nocturne because of their resonance with my experiences:
- “One of the things I learned about death is that it makes you behave in ways you never thought you would.”
- “The music to which you’d given your life sustained you while you were dying.”
- “We all give our lives to something, and our lives are taken from us at some point. We are lucky if what we devote ourselves to can offer some comfort at the end.”
- “ ‘I’m not afraid to die,’ you said. ‘I just don’t want to.’ “
- “I’ve been thinking about the human soul, about the presence of the unseen in our lives, about how, the moment you died, I felt you leave. What was it that left? And why did I feel that you did leave? It wasn’t simply that a light was turned off, that your consciousness stopped, but rather that you moved swiftly from your dead body and went somewhere else. But where did you go?”
Helen Humphreys knows that life goes on.
I continue to write. I continue to read. I continue to listen to and play music. I continue to love. I know that life goes on.
But for both Helen and me, life continues under a shadow.
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Information on Helen Humphreys’ writing is on her website at: http://www.hhumphreys.com
Information on my writing is on my website at: http://www.DavidGHallman.com