Having seen the 1985 Anne of Green Gables mini series, I knew of Matthew Cuthbert’s death. The author, Lucy Maud Montgomery, certainly prepares her readers by way of hints and foreshadowing, so that it is no great surprise.
Yet it remains a solemn and sad chapter. It is nearly impossible for readers or for Anne to imagine what life will be like without him. Much of the energy of Anne’s ambition had come from her love for Matthew who has been her staunch advocate during her time in Avonlea, even before her place there was made secure.
It is a bittersweet experience to pass through those pages and so pass through Anne and Marilla’s loss–a loss so deep that Anne’s very delight in the beauty of the world seems for a time like a betrayal of Matthew.
It is not Anne’s experience primarily, but my own as a reader that I am thinking of here. To look upon such pages, to contemplate loss in a novel has something of the structure of a tableau, not because of its unreality, but because it is framed within a story, within something moving which stretches beyond the stillness and privacy of the episode. This is particularly true for those reading a novel whose story is already known (for someone rereading).
Strangely enough, grief is not eliminated for such a reader, for one who knows what is coming. Rather, grief is illuminated–even as its depth catches one by surprise. In the midst of our own private griefs, we often cannot sense this glory of light, but in stories, in the security of some emotional distance, we can.
What is this glory? It is something like the glory of love which we have for Matthew, the sacredness of the sorrow which consecrates the loss. Paradoxically, this distance–the fact that we are not Anne or Marilla–allows us to sense something of the immanence of God and his love for his creatures, the weight of glory he has set upon every human life, and the moments of our lives.
Every loss, every sorrow, every death is a page in his book, a page which he reads, which he has set his eyes upon, not previously, not for a thousand years, but from all eternity. From eternity he has contemplated the very hour, he has fixed his eyes upon what to us may seem darkest and most terrible. And in that eternity, he sees such a moment shine with an unconquerable light.
The sweetness which grief brings is perhaps a dim apprehension, a hope of the glory which God has prepared for us, a sense that one day when the pages of this life are finished, a new and greater book shall be opened and never be shut.