A friend of mine
died of cancer this week. Paul was a buddy from Clarion, a well-loved writer and friend.Others
have paid tribute
to him eloquently
. I can't do better.
The small things that were just us, as friends, I'm still holding to myself.
So instead let me speak to you of some things I know about grieving. It's where I am right now.
One: Nothing prepares you.
I learned this when my mother died.
She'd been in intensive care, gravely ill, for two weeks. We were at her bed, waiting. The machines had been stilled. My hand rested on her leg. I felt the moment when her body stopped and she was gone.
You can see a death coming like a semi trailer, horns blaring, lights flashing, and you can tell yourself that you know how it's going to be. And you hope that somehow, the driver will crank the wheel, and miss. You know in some part of yourself that it's not likely. Still.
Nothing prepares you. The truck hits.
Two: Speak up.
Kelly, my god-daughter, would have been 37 today.
When she died, I was far away -- in a foreign country, under a strange tongue, amid distant customs. I found out too late. And I should have phoned her mother, but I didn't. I told myself others were closer, better equipped to help. I was wrong.
Someone dies. Maybe you tell yourself that it's silly to call, to send a card, that the survivors don't know you very well or at all, that there will be so many other well-wishers, that you don't want to intrude, etc. etc..
None of that matters.
When someone dies, those who are left behind are plunged into darkness. All the cards and emails and fb posts and calls, though exhausting and repetitive and hard, are flickers of light in that darkness, reminders that out there, somewhere, life is going on.
Find a memory that's alive. Make a tiny flame of it.
Send it, in the form of a card, or an email, or a phone call.
Try to avoid it.
Four: Remember to forget to remember.
People have written libraries on the work of grief and memory.
Here's one thing I know.
When someone you love dies, you spend the rest of your life learning how to navigate around the pain that their absence marks out in your life. Eventually, the route around the biggest holes becomes autonomic -- you won't have to think about swerving. The holes don't disappear. Sometimes new ones appear. Sometimes you stop, and visit at them a while. But it's better if you don't linger.
Now maybe the things that you know about grieving are different. It wouldn't surprise me. Like writing a novel, losing someone you care for does surprisingly little to prepare you for the next time, and every loss, like every life, has its own shape.
Each death is incommensurable. And each is a reprise.
Paul Haines (1970-2012)
Betty Waring (1927-2010)
Kelly Weatherall (1975-2005)
Dan Waring (1923-2001)
Mary Teylouni (1930-1988)