Yesterday I said goodbye to someone tremendously special. If you’ve ever been to the funeral service of someone you love, you know what that’s like.
Awful. Glorious. Painful. Hard. Loving.
It was my first. Not my first funeral or death; my first time saying goodbye to someone that played a very real and meaningful part in my life.
As far as firsts go, it’s not one a person appreciates having. No one goes around celebrating their first real loss, marking it on their calendars and having My First Death parties. Still, as far as firsts go, it’s one of the most profound. Probably second only to having a child. On some level, it may not even be second. There’s no changing it for the better, no making up for mistakes, no learning curve. There’s no do-over. It simply is.
Forever is a long time.
The survivors have to live with it. I know my pain; I know how completely and totally devastated I feel. Waking up this morning after tossing and turning all night long and crying all morning, even as I sit here now. Tears get wiped only when it’s too much to see what I’m typing because I’d rather let them flow, feeling the streams run down my cheeks, splashing into puddles I have to wipe off the table. A comforting pain.
Then I think of his mother and brothers and their experience of this loss. They feel it in ways I don’t want to imagine.
John hadn’t been that active in our lives lately, nor us in his. The reality is, my husband and I moved on to marriage, kids, mortgage, suburbs, and school districts while John’s life grew into a merry band of Mystical Misfits, Burning Man, and his many social events and gatherings. He had a rich life, filled with fun and adventure. That’s not to say our life sucks in comparison but it’s certainly not as . . . eventful, I say with a smirk. Needless to say, I saw him less. He did his thing while I did mine.
My husband would run into him every once in a while or they’d talk on the phone, always picking up where they’d left off. He’d then come home and tell me all about John’s new antics. It never stopped being special no matter how little we saw each other.
I gave his mother a hug before I left. I’d never met her, although John bragged about her and his brothers regularly. I wanted to talk to her, introduce myself and say I’m sorry and let her know how much I loved him. Instead I stood there, holding her shoulders for just a short moment, crying. I couldn’t get the words out. It was too hard, looking at his mom, knowing.
He would go to his mom’s house for holiday meals, then swing by our house for more. He loved our dinners and barbecues and one year, he made sure to bring us some of his mom’s oyster dressing, his favorite. Whenever he came to visit her, he always made time to visit us. His mom moved away a couple years ago and that may have been the last time I saw him.
His mom knew what I wanted to say, I’m sure. It’s what everyone wanted to say. Some did. Some went up and told wonderful stories of John. Others, like me, couldn’t. We listened, though. We laughed and cried and knew exactly what each person meant with every word said. People he knew a short while and people he knew for many years, like my husband. The amazing woman, a total stranger, that sat with him while he passed in front of her house, holding him, letting him know he wasn’t alone, spoke for him.
I will forever be grateful my husband worked with him a week before he passed. It’s a bit like having been there myself.
I thought of him often. Hard not to with so many reminders of him in my house. The photo he gave us still hangs in our hallway, the plaque is on our front porch. There’s more but it’s enough to say he’s here. If I know John, I know he thought of me, too. No matter what, we were forever a part of each others lives, despite how different our paths went.
I don’t regret not having seen him. I wish I could have. I wish I could have hugged him, heard his laugh and let him catch me up on everything I’ve missed. But I have no regrets because I know he lived life well, filled with people that loved him and made him happy. I know he cared for me and my family, and he knows I cared for him. That’s enough peace for me.
The turnout was incredible. When there were no more seats to take, people stood. I can’t say I’ve ever seen anything quite that lovely, and it made me smile to know that he never stopped living, collecting such precious friends. I know that when I go, I won’t have as many people gathered, regaling others with stories of adventures and antics. It makes me a little envious that I’m not more like him, a social butterfly. There are worse things to be than affectionately envious of a well-loved friend, though.
Thirteen years of knowing John, give or take, and now I’m at a complete loss for how to handle forever. I know the tears wills stop eventually. Knowing that doesn’t change the fact that this is a first I don’t want. I don’t want to learn to live without knowing he lives forty-five minutes away, without knowing he’s off putting a smile on someone’s face. I don’t want to learn to fathom what not being here anymore really means.
Survivors, the friends and family left behind, don’t get that option. We have to live with memories and pictures. I still haven’t been able to wrap my head around it. My kids are freaking out, I’m sure, as I tell them between sobs that they need to be close to each other and love each other. John was the consummate example of how to love your brothers. I want my children to love each other the way John loved and supported his brothers, always wanting more for them, keeping them close and an integral part of his daily life.
I want my sons to live life like John. I have to teach them how. I have to take everything I learned from John on how to not only do whatever it is you want to do, but to do it with everything you’ve got. It doesn’t matter if it’s something small, like planting a garden or going to Burning Man and building a three-story hotel with a working elevator in the middle of the desert. There’s as much adventure to be had in the little things as there are in the grandiose, all you need to do is bring it with you. Whatever you do, put your heart in it and make it an adventure.