Today, I will be going to another funeral, this time it’s a college friend who took his own life. I will be seeing folks I have not seen in nearly thirty years, most of us a little thicker, a little grayer, with aching backs and aching hearts. Some of us are still raising kids, some of us have started the grandparenting gig. The man being laid to rest today had one infant grandchild, and another getting here soon. Some of us never married, some of us just won the right to be married in this country. We attended each others’ weddings and threw each others’ baby showers. There have been divorces. Remarriages. Career victories. Career humiliations. Addictions. Illnesses.
We will look at each other and I know that what we will see will be our young selves- dressed in the silly banana costumes or milkman costumes of our college’s annual Follies, hanging out in the SUB between classes, dressed as nerds at our brother/sister club Valentine social. The years will fall away- most of us have not gathered together in a long time. We will say goodbye. We will come home and resume our daily lives. Because that’s what you do.
Three weeks ago, another friend died. Heart attack at a convenience store. He was not a perfect man-he had his struggles and mistakes. He left behind a lot of questions. And maybe for that reason, there was ambiguity in the grief. But there was, and is, grief. Make no mistake. I didn’t get to go that funeral, it was out of state. But I held my own private ritual at home, drinking toasts to a scallywag pirate with whom I had been friends for eighteen years, while catharsis came in the form of a “This is Us” marathon.
Three weeks before that, I lost a relatively new friend, the police chief of our little town, and head of security where I work. He was a truly good man, the very kind of cop you wish every cop would be- leading and serving with a compassion for the citizens he had sworn to protect. He had a charming smile and a sense of humor, until it was time to wield his authority. He was trustworthy. He had a heart attack while on duty and received the full police burial. Watching the line of law enforcement officers stand at attention while his body was borne to his grave was moving, hearing his mother sob was wrenching.
I lost my brother in 2009 to a drug overdose, my father in 2008 to pneumonia and complications from Type II Diabetes. Ten years later, that grief is still too profound to burden the public with. At least, not in a short blog post.
All my grandparents are long gone, my husband’s grandfather is the last remaining person of that generation in our family.
My mom died much longer ago, when I was in my twenties.
On either side of me, my office mates have each had major deaths in their families during this same period-one lost a nine year old nephew who had spent six years battling leukemia, the other lost the birth mother she had just found.
When we get to middle age, we kind of know that there will be loss- hair starts falling out, vision gets blurred, memory starts to be something we joke about. We buy Rogaine, get Botox injections, add knee braces for our workouts, and keep drugstore reading glasses at multiple locations- I have an upstairs pair, a downstairs, pair, and a work pair. We watched this stuff happen to our parents, we see jokes about it on shows like “The Middle” (that show is brilliant, by the way- it’s about the only thing that has made me feel humorous about this whole ridiculous phase). We ladies keep fans in our purses to calm the misery of hot flashes and get really aggressive with the pharmacists when there’s a problem with our hormone prescriptions.
I expected all of that.
What I didn’t really expect was the loss of people. I mean, in an intellectual way you know it’s going to happen. You do. But it’s like a kick int the gut. When you see the text message from your husband that says “Call me as soon as you can,” you get a sinking feeling- because now you know what that very well mean. You ask yourself “Who is it this time?”
Every week, I watch friends post their losses- parents and friends, usually- Facebook has become a place where we see the struggle, we mark the anniversaries of death as well as birthdays and anniversaries. Last night, as I crawled into bed, I wondered if loss and funerals are the new norm.
I am not making any big revelations here- it’s all the circle of life, we know it. It has ever been. It will always be.
But I am beginning to realize that it’s time to dig deep, to know what is important to me. To identify what I want to leave behind. Not in a material sense, but in a spiritual one. It is imperative that I get a will written. But it’s more imperative that I figure out what my purpose is for the next phase. As Princeton says in Avenue Q- what lights a flame under my ass? What gets me up and moving? Who do I want to impact? How? Why?
The tears sit really close to the edge on days like these. Today will be a day for grief, for goodbye, for sending sustaining love across the aisle of the church to the family members left behind.
But tomorrow will be a day for renewal. For being present and grateful. For life and love. Namaste.