One grieves to a greater or a lesser extent, but, on a purely self-interested level, one also begins to get the message. Something along these lines:
An autumn evening;
Without a cry,
A crow passes.
Kishū (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume 3: Summer-Autumn (Hokuseido Press 1952), page 345.
Or, in the context of a different season, this:
Spring has departed;
Where has it gone,
The moored boat?
Buson (1716-1784) (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, A History of Haiku, Volume 1 (Hokuseido Press 1963), page 286.
Buson's haiku leads naturally to this waka, which was written nine centuries before Buson's time (the continuity of Japanese poetry is a wonderful thing):
Our life in this world --
to what shall I compare it?
It is like a boat
rowing out at break of day,
leaving not a trace behind.
Sami Mansei (early 8th century) (translated by Steven Carter), in Steven Carter, Traditional Japanese Poetry: An Anthology (Stanford University Press 1991), page 51.
Joseph Farquharson (1846-1935), "Corn Stooks" (c. 1880)
In his Meditations, Marcus Aurelius now and then posts lists of the illustrious and not-so-illustrious dead in order to remind himself that all is vanity and that all living things, including the emperor of Rome, are evanescent bubbles. For instance:
"Hippocrates, after conquering many diseases, yielded to a disease at last. The Chaldeans foretold the fatal hours of multitudes, and fate afterwards carried themselves away. Alexander, Pompey, and Caius Caesar, who so often razed whole cities, and cut off in battle so many myriads of horse and foot, at last departed from this life themselves. Heraclitus, who wrote so much about the conflagration of the universe, died swollen with water, and bedaubed with ox-dung. Vermin destroyed Democritus, and another sort of vermin destroyed Socrates."
Marcus Aurelius (translated by Francis Hutcheson and James Moor), Meditations, Book III, Section 3, in Francis Hutcheson and James Moor, The Meditations of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (1742).
I understand what the emperor is getting at: "Then stop, and ask, where are they all now? Smoke, and ashes, and an old tale; or, perhaps, not even a tale." (Meditations, Book XII, Section 27.) Yes, understood. But, as Marcus knew, this recognition is only the starting point for leading a good life and arriving at a good death. And now, Philip Larkin chimes in: "Death is no different whined at than withstood." ("Aubade.") Yes, understood as well. One will never be prepared. With an apology for being self-referential: "How little we know! It leaves you breathless."
In the meantime, I prefer lovely intimations. A crow passing silently overhead in the evening sky of autumn. A still pond and a departed boat. A seaside town in late September.
September in Great Yarmouth
The woodwind whistles down the shore
Piping the stragglers home; the gulls
Snaffle and bolt their final mouthfuls.
Only the youngsters call for more.
Chimneys breathe and beaches empty,
Everyone queues for the inland cold --
Middle-aged parents growing old
And teenage kids becoming twenty.
Now the first few spots of rain
Spatter the sports page in the gutter.
Council workmen stab the litter.
You have sown and reaped; now sow again.
The band packs in, the banners drop,
The ice-cream stiffens in its cone.
The boatman lifts his megaphone:
"Come in, fifteen, your time is up."
Derek Mahon, Poems 1962-1978 (Oxford University Press 1979).
Joseph Farquharson, "Harvesting, Forest of Birse" (c. 1900)