Sometimes you encounter something that will not be pinned in. You cannot contain this or rationalize it or know in advance where it’s going.
This event does not have to be the most significant of your life on any other terms. But it will knock you flat.
it’s called grief.
Grief for a chapter of your life now ending, a love affair, a national disaster. Whatever the source is, you react by saying, “Oh.” There is nothing to articulate, no social media to post.
There is no eulogy to write when a person dies.
We write it, a bit later, to sum up. But it’s only after another’s death – a death that moves you – when you realize that the living reality, however complicated, however annoying or bothersome or disappointing, was so much better in its indescribable complexity than any neat and tidy, poetic or eloquent summation in death.
Perhaps that is grief itself: We didn’t mean it. You were perfect as you were. Come back.
I would prefer it if this man continued to exist.
I met him just a couple of months ago. I was sitting at a table at a bar I had determined was the safest dive.
“Pretty redhead at table two,” I heard, and looked to see a man passing by.
Mentioning that, I feel the need to add, “He was a perfect gentleman.” But saying that would, in a good essay, need to be backed up by facts. To relate facts after knowing a man for a matter of weeks, when others have known him for years, is to diminish the experience of knowing this man.
Who am I to say, “This is why he was special,” perhaps overshadowing the memories of others, much more evocative than mine?
The truth of death is that it belongs to the living. Grief is for those left alive.
We sat around his end of the bar tonight, making ribald jokes, and jokes about how to pronounce the word “ribald.”
I had felt at home at this bar because it seemed full of intelligence, but I only saw that because I was introduced to intelligent people by Lyman.
There you go again with the anecdotes.
Tonight, we told anecdotes and we drank and we made ribald jokes.
Here is the terrible thing.
If you could trace the shape of a person’s soul.
If you could follow the path on a map from Point A to Point Z along the timeline of a human life.
If you could see, projected on the wall, the deepest wish in someone’s heart.
And, if you took that device to the ICU to document the purest intent of this unresponsive man.
It would show the image
of people he cared about
or, if that was all that was available,
even people he was mildly fond of,
sitting around a four-top,
beers in hand,
This was a man who simply wanted others to be their happiest or their best. Creative and intelligent, he knew those two feelings could be mutually exclusive. He had an appreciation of talent that even talent itself denied.
But there I go again, telling anecdotes.
My biggest fantasy tonight is that tomorrow I will learn he’s rallied. Hearing the news, I’ll feel overjoyed and delete this post. Just in case.
You should never have to read your own eulogy.
In the meantime, we take turns throwing memories into a hat. Maybe one of these memories will take on a vivid blue light, the passion of life. Maybe one will be so wonderful that it will strike him, in his unresponsive state, and make him feel the thrills of that day.
Perhaps he will be forced to blink his eyes awake, with the sheer delight of that memory.
“I remember,” he’ll say, and jump up from that hospital bed.
In the meantime people who knew him, for weeks or years or decades, tell stories. Stories of experiences shared with him, stories of things frustrating about him, even terrible and embarrassing stories that can only be told in the shared moment of mourning him.
Eulogies are told. The memories may not resurrect the fallen. But they serve, as best anything can, to honor the mess that is love.