Late at night and on rare occasions, she awakens to sorrow that cannot be stilled, sublimated nor silenced. She lies in bed listening to the pounding of her heart, willing it to be slowed in tempo. It lies not in her chest, but rather, in her ears. Beating. Beating. Harder. Louder. In her mind, in her mind are thoughts of closed yesterdays that now lie in the forefront of consciousness, taunting her fears, her recriminations, and her laments. Is this what we must face as life leaves us in anguish? Can the deaths of those we’ve loved ever be reconciled by the living?
And part of her thinks how easy it would be just to let go of life’s tether. Suffer no more, for surely this pain cannot sustain existence in this realm. In those moments of anguish and torment, sometimes she goes to keening. It first happened some years ago upon the death of her sibling. People told her she must go on, must stop grieving, must live life to the fullest. But the pain, and yes, it is unmistakably pain, will not cease. Sometimes it abates and sometimes it forces its way out of the cave and against her will.
It is in these moments that she keens. There is a low, soft moan that rises from her throat but not through her closed lips, over and over and over. It is a sound the Irish know. It is a sound she heard at the family’s wakes. It is the sound of grief that cannot be enunciated but is understood by the sharing nonetheless. With whom can she share this grief? Only God Himself knows. She rises from her bed and almost glides above the floor until she finds her grandmother’s rocking chair. Keening had been done in this very chair when her uncle passed away unexpectedly, and the grandmother cried in depths not known by the on-watchers at the time, but is now understood by her. We mothers, we sisters, we wives, we friends, we all, at some time face losses which leave us changed, that’s all, just changed.
And sometimes she goes to keening. It is a comfort. It is a release perhaps only understood by the old ones before us. She may not have realized it at the time, but now she knows that she is not alone. The ancients are with her. Perhaps they are keening from another world in concert with her own sounds. Perhaps they are not there at all. She prefers to believe they are with her. All those gone before her must surely know how very lonely she is at times. She closes her eyes. She rocks in the chair, and she keens.