I wonder, how much of love is just being known?
It's 4:20 am. We're on our way to Ohio to say goodbye, to pay respects, to bury, to hug, to try to wrap our heads around the idea that Eddy, Marco's sister's husband, is really gone.
We've done this trip so many times that now we can basically prep with very little discussion. I know what he'll want to wear in the car, I know to remind him of his wallet. He suggests I use the bathroom one more time. We do a sort of dreamy dance, setting the lights, feeding the fish, loading the car. And so many little things I take for granted. He knows I will need my pillow. I know we'll stop for gas, and I will automatically get him a Gatorade. And this time is no different, although perhaps it's been done more quietly. Everything between us has been done quietly lately. I didn't know how much of grief would be vacant silence.
I thought I was prepared for his death. We knew it was coming. Sixteen months of a grueling battle with stomach cancer leaves one mindful of the coming end. But when that call came that they thought he'd die within hours, I crumpled to the floor. Everything I had been worried about doing that day just dissipated, leaving only sadness, impatience, regret, and desperation. I can't quite tell how much is my own pain and how much is the pain of knowing others are suffering. And not just others. Marco's family is my family. His sister is my sister. Her children, part of the fabric of my heart.
It's no secret that this last year was fraught with difficulty and frustration. Eddy's gradual withdrawal from life left a vacuum, both in the family and in our company. You see, not only are they family, but they are my coworkers. Our lives are tied by daily conversations, negotiations, emails, texts. We run a small home health agency where all but one of the admin team is a family member. It was intense before he got sick, but when the COO is going through chemo and then surgery to remove organs, all life lurches in fits and starts. It is painful. It is complicated. It is exhausting. It's filled with equal parts empathy and frustration. And for him, I can't imagine. He cared deeply about the company, the patients, the employees. He had poured himself into making things better, and he had to let go and watch us flounder and shift and try to make it all work.
And now? How do we all keep going, keep working, keep the company and each other going through this grief? How do we manage without the person who knows? He was the keeper of stories, the rememberer of old events, the guy with all the inside jokes. He knew us. And he was known.
I can't pretend that my grief is anything compared to what my sister-in-law is feeling, missing her other half, the man who really knew her. And the kids? How do we even begin to be there for them when we have no idea what part of them he knew, what secrets of loving them he held, what jokes they shared? Only they carry those mysteries. Only they know what part of them is lost in a memory we can never retrieve.
So, I packed cookie dough and sprinkles and bags of icing...for new memories, for new ways for them to be known, for all of us to gather and share the pieces we know are now missing. And I got them journals, so they can begin the process of capturing the part of him they have locked away, and the part of themselves they lost with him. His memory was great, we all have a lot of empty space now.
I explained to Maya that his body is gone but that who he was, the only part of him we ever actually had, is in our memories of him. And that's the afterlife, or the only part of living after death that we know for sure. Heaven is not awaiting. Heaven is here. We make it by sharing ourselves, leaving behind a legacy of memory, made in our lifetime. It sure makes you think about how you want to spend your day. For , "How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives." (Annie Dillard)
"The worst part of holding the memories is not the pain. It's the loneliness of it. Memories need to be shared."
Lois Lowry, The Giver
We will all miss the man who knew us, the sharer of our memories. When someone dies, we miss them. Nothing can replace their physical form, their jokes and hugs and antics. But the memories of who they were we get to keep. He lives on in us. The part that's gone is the part of us that was in him. Eddy knew me. He knew all of us. And those pieces, those memories, those parts of us that only he kept, they're gone. And that radio silence is what lets the sadness in, like an air raid on your mind.
Love is being known. And today we begin to say goodbye to love, goodbye to memory, goodbye to shared moments, goodbye to inappropriate jokes, long phone calls, silly texts and too long hugs. We say goodbye to a man and goodbye to who we were with him. There are memories of myself, a harsh word, rolled eyes, that are best put to rest. But I will forever miss the part of me he held dear, the partner in-law who hopefully showed him respect and love and patience, who knew me as my best self and who shared a space and a family we would never have known had we not both stumbled upon these people we so love, people by whom we are known.