In the midst of death we are in life

Though there is some uncertainty in the date (June 6th is the date on the death certificate), today is the day on my calendar for remembering the death of my husband-equivalent, Jacques Transue, who died ten years ago after twelve years of terrible decline from radiation-caused dementia. There’s a lot I could say about Jacques, our life together, and the appalling course of his death — a posting of mine on aphasia links to a brief medical history here and to notes on Jacques’s linguistic abilities from 1998-2002 here, and has some telling of the last things he was able to say — but here’s a story about his final days.

The miracle of those last days was that, through a complex history that isn’t relevant here, my grand-daughter Opal was conceived then. When Jacques’s family heard the news that our daughter Elizabeth was pregnant, they were delighted; his sister-in-law Virginia said at the time, with pleasure, “In the midst of death we are in life”.

This is a word transposition of a line from the burial service in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, a line that Virginia and I were well familiar with.  From Wikipedia:

Media Vita In Morte Sumus is the title and first line of a Latin antiphon, which translates as In the midst of life we are in death. It was erroneously attributed to Notker the Stammerer late in the Middle Ages, but was more probably written around 750 in France. Especially popular in the Baroque period, it was also used in Hartmann von Aue’s Middle High German narrative poem Der arme Heinrich (V.93f.).

It has been translated into the vernacular several times, such as in 1524 by Martin Luther as Mytten wir ym leben synd (now in the Evangelischen Gesangbuch hymnbook as number 518, or 654 in the Gotteslob hymnbook) and by Thomas Cranmer (whose version became part of the burial service in the Book of Common Prayer).

Jacques’s parents, Bill and Monique, celebrated Opal as their first great-grandchild (or, I guess, great-grandchild-equivalent). There are now two more, though Bill and Monique are themselves gone now.

Opal has been learning about her grandmother, Ann Daingerfield Zwicky, who died 25 years before she was born, and also about her step-grandfather Jacques, who died nine months before she was born. Ten years ago.

3 Responses to “In the midst of death we are in life”

  1. Doug Wyman Says:

    I used to look forward to your telling of the events as they unfolded. Your narratives were lessons about life that one rarely gets to read. I had copied and saved them all only to have them go away with about a thousand photos and other treasures that didn’t back up properly. Your troubles gave me a great amount of ammunition in the argument for legal gay marriage. No couple should endure the bureaucratic nightmare you faced. Ten years…

  2. H.S. Gudnason Says:


  3. Johnnie Miller Says:

    I’ve just discovered your blog today. After reading some of it I immediately wanted to know more about you. And, delightfully, you are gay like me. I found these entries about your life and came to this one. I’m sorry for your loss. I’d like to know more about you. You seem to be the gay man with the finestly tuned language ear and most brilliant word historian/language lover I’ve ever seen on the net. Point me towards what you find as your most brilliant piece of writing and let me start reading you there. I’d like to know what you think is the best you’ve done.

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