The first sentence of the poem, "What the Living Do" grabbed me immediately. Everyone at some point in their lives will experience the death of a loved one. Unfortunately there are no rules, instruction manuals, or owners' guide as to how to effectively cope with the matter. Marie Howe expresses her grief with a tone that places it first in the "Bad Love" then the "Good Love" categories. Through irony, the author shows us that one can become so consumed by death that they forget to live.
Forgot to LiveEdit
My father passed away June 9, 2002 in his hopital room, during the NBA finals with me giving him play by play. The NBA finals was our special thing. He slipped quietly away just after the third quarter began. I have no idea who won that night. As a matter of fact, it was a long while before I watched another NBA game again. I literally walked around in a daze for five years. I was only going through the motions, not "living." I woke up one morning and my oldest daughter was as tall as I. It was then I realized that life needed me.
Just as I awakened from my five year daze, the poem decribes Marie Howe's own personal awakening. She begins with the dirty dishes in the sink that is also clogged (Line 1,) waiting for the plumber that she never called (Line 3) and the furnace she doesn't know how to turn off (Line 5). She describes her awakening when she mentions driving, dropping groceries, and spilling coffee on herself (Line 8.) as things the living do (Line 7.) It was as if she too were just going through the motions.
One may depend on their loved one for one thing or another, creating an even bigger void. For me, I never had to put gas in my own car before my dad passed. But I learned quickly what that "E" on my dashboard meant. For the author, her clogged sink and furnace issue must have been things her brother would have taken care of had be been alive. The beauty of the poem is brought forth through her awakening and decision to live. I can wholly understand the emotion she brings with each line. "I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it" (Line 9.) Her statement, "What you finally gave up," respresents her brother succumbing to death and her realization that for her life is still a very present thing.
"What the Living Do" gives hope to those grieving the loss of a loved one. The saying poses true, time does heal all wounds. The key is positively coping until those wounds finally heal. It does get better. Death is an evident part of the life process. In remembering, cherishing and celebrating lost loved ones one should never become so consumed with death that they forget to live.
1. Howe, Marie. What the Living Do. New York: Norton & Company, Inc, 1998. Print.
2. Delbanco, Nicholas and Alan Cheuse. Literature: Craft and Voice. Volume 3. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2010. Print.