Mr Hamlet Senior, formerly king of Denmark, has passed on. His son Hamlet Junior is sad, sulky, grumpy with Ophelia (who suicides), stabbish with Polonius lurking behind an arrass (who just happens to be Ophelia’s Dad, who dies incidentally of Hamlet’s stabbishness); obsessed, ruminative, haunted; angry, angry, angry; refusing to be consoled, refusing to be reconciled.
His Mum, pragmatically re-queened to Hamlet’s uncle, offers some advice to Hamlet Junior: ‘Tis common. Why seems it different with thee?
In other words, Get over it, son.
And in time we do. As a rule. ( If Hamlet fails to get over it’s because his uncle killed his Dad. And because Hamlet is, well, Hamlet.)
This week my sister and my surviving brother and I remember our father and our firstborn brother. The anniversary of Dad’s death falls on the 13th day of the month of Ellul; Dennis died three years later, on Ellul 18.
Dad was 92, Dennis 63.
They died when they had to – Dad once his broken body began to break his iron will; Dennis, who lived for Mum, Dennis whose meaning was to be a son, Dennis constitutionally unable to live a motherless life. He died while Mum was alive. (Mum, most buoyant of my three lost ones, mourned Dennis, mourning lightly, living on, ever lightly.)
I think of them, all three. I wrestle with memories of the brother, he the first of his father’s strength, the brother who wrestled always with Dad. Two firstborn of firstborns, two men of fire who burned each other in their hot loving. I think of them, I remember their awful strife, I who knew, I who witnessed their mutual love, I, powerless to stop them hurting each other. Powerless in the end to stop the pain to myself.
I dream of them. The Dad dreams are never anything than pleasant. He smiles as we bump into each other in the lounge rooms of our lives. Dad prepares his enslaving coffee, I write, we smile, we know each other, we accept each other.
When I dream of Dennis the anxious need to rescue him clouds all. Not accepting, never reconciling to my brother’s pain, I strain against his self destruction. Aware always – in these dreams and when awake – aware of his love, his heavy tenderness towards me.
In my waking I recall Dad’s request, directed to me when I was twelve, Dennis fifteen: Some have a clear path in life. They are the lucky ones. You are one of those, one of the blessed. Your brother, your older brother, his path is not so easy. Help him, help Dennis when you can.
I tried, Dad. I never stopped trying.
The years pass. ‘tis common. We get over it.
And yet, and yet, that Hamlet scene returns.
Hamlet’s Mum, Gertrude: “Thou knowest ‘tis common.
All that lives must die, passing through nature to eternity.”
Hamlet: “Ay Madam, ‘tis common.”
Gertrude: “If it be, why seems it so particular with thee?”
Hamlet: “I know not seems, Madam.”
I had a father. He passed through nature to eternity. I had an older brother, I lost him; I lost a limb. The phantom sensations do not end.
I write, a destiny. Until I have written the courageous, the impossible life of my brother, that hurt, hurting life, I will not earn dreamless rest.
Yitgadal ve’yitkaddash, shmei rabah.