Death is not convenient

January 29, 2016

Death is not convenient. It does not wait, tarry, ask permission, or discriminate against age, race or gender. The place and time are a secret agreement with every person and are revealed in its own time, in ways dramatic and quiet, public and private, violent and peaceful.

When I learned of the death of my childhood friend’s father, I was saddened for him and his brothers and their families. I was coming off a long week’s work with meetings after work on Monday and Tuesday, a day long out of town conference on Wednesday and a ten hour workday on Thursday. So when I learned Friday morning about Herb’s passing, and the service on Sunday, I did not immediately assume I was going. It was over three hours away, and I couldn’t imagine it. Even though Herb was 91, it was a surprise for them, as he had been in fine health, exercising regularly, and still living at home.

By Saturday morning, however, with a more typical day on Friday, I couldn’t imagine missing it. This was the husband of my mother’s partner with whom she ran a school for 25 years. Their son, Seth and I were founding (and dominating) students at age three, and I had spent countless hours at their house growing up. We laid out under the stars, filmed movies riding their St. Bernard, or in pretend cars on their long, steep, winding driveway. We played the board game Shenanigans by the hour and wolfed down lunches Shirley cooked up before running outside again. This was my second home and it has become a museum for the family, displaying photographs by my friend who became an internationally renown photographer, paintings by his older brother and family photos of the past fifty years.

It was the end of an era for me, but mostly for the three sons who stood together as each spoke about the dedication and steady influence of their father who I didn’t know as well. Their arms on each other’s shoulders, they were a living representation of that steadiness and of the respect and love that infused their relationships.

The link to the future was evidenced in their children, ranging in age from 25 to 3, and as I watched them host a meal afterward in that historic home built in 1881, I thought about the joining links from parent to child, parent to child. Herb’s death marks a passage for them and others, but they will navigate this wave with the connection to each other, and perhaps the next time they collect from the corners of the United States will be a celebration: a graduation, a wedding or a birthday.

What will become of the seventeen room house that I remember as the most intimidating place to play hide and seek I could imagine? None of them live near there now. They are all ensconced in their lives in California or Florida.

As time warps, creating the topsy turvy disorientation following the death of a close and beloved family member I wish them time to sit with their thoughts, with the fullness of their feelings, and allow the length and breadth of their memories to float forward. May the waves of joy of a long life well lived waft in, smoothing the tearful bumps that will inevitably surface as well. Their straightforward relationships mean a deep wound that will heal cleanly with time. May this first holiday time bring some welcome distraction, if not quite yet the start of new traditions as they move forward in this next stage of life.

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