Blanche DuBois’ Sober View on Death

I have written several times here on Drama, Daily about my sister’s cancer battle, in-home hospice experience, and eventual death in October 2008 and about how deeply it all has affected me–not from just the obvious standpoint of mourning her death, but also from the standpoint of growing up, accepting life on life’s terms, confronting rather than avoiding conversations about mortality.  I have found that one of the greatest antidotes for dealing with my own grief has simply been a matter of being available and receptive to others, bearing witness to those who are suffering, listening to those who are grieving.

In the first post, I wrote about my sister’s last day of life, and I opened with an excerpt from chapter four of Charlotte Bronte’s novel Villette, in which Lucy Snowe recounts Miss Marchmont’s final burst of life before death. In another post, my fantastic readers helped me compile a list of plays about death and dying.  In February I started working as a freelance writer and editor for several South Florida hospices, none of which have an arts program in place that incorporates plays on death and dying as a form of therapy for patients, families, and staff, so I hope to change this in the not too distant future.  More to follow on this.

In today’s post, I give you an excerpt from the opening scene of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, in which Blanch DuBois explains to her sister, Stella, what it was like to stay behind at the family estate, Belle Reve, and endure a succession of deaths while Stella only popped in and out for funerals.  Anyone who has experienced the loss of a loved one can attest to the sad and sober reality of which Blanche speaks:

“…All of those deaths!  The long parade to the graveyard! Father! Mother! Margaret, that dreadful way!  So big with it, it couldn’t be put in a coffin!  But had to be burned like rubbish!  You just came home in time for the funerals.  Funerals are quiet, but death–not always.  Sometimes their breathing is hoarse, and sometimes it rattles, and sometimes even they cry out to you, “Don’t let me go!” Even the old, sometimes, say, “Don’t let me go.”  As if you were able to stop them!  But funerals are quiet, with pretty flowers.  And, oh, what gorgeous boxes they pack them away in!  Unless you were there at the bed when they cried out, “Hold me!” you’d never suspect there was the struggle for breath and bleeding.  You didn’t dream, but I saw!  Saw! Saw! And now you sit there telling me with your eyes that I let the place go! How in hell do you think all that sickness and dying was paid for?  Death is expensive, Miss Stella!…Why, the Grim Reaper had put up his tent on our doorstep!”

One Response to “Blanche DuBois’ Sober View on Death”
  1. Nick says:

    Sometimes the struggle to live, to make that decision clear to yourself despite the weight and guilt felt as a survivor who remains on this side, the side of the living, is just as hard as watching someone go. To make that decision clear to yourself, to participate in the world among the walking wounded struggling for space to simply be, just be and justify with each step why they are here and not dead, that struggle is very much alive. A cousin at six who strangles himself; a brother who leaves never to come back; a twin gone crazy; that silence you can’t shatter at the dinner table with jokes; the weight of gathering together as a family; pretending, making it cheap and easy and assuming that’s what “liveable” means, yellow laughter from one to the next until time ends. That. That. God, to escape all that would be terrifying and glory all at once.

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