Make Room for Death...
As I type this, my high school best friend’s funeral is taking place.
I couldn’t attend because my son graduates from preschool today or I live too far away or I have a job and need to work to support my family or maybe, the truth is, we just aren’t a part of one another’s life anymore.
But when I found out he’d suddenly, unexpectedly died, I cried.
On Facebook, a mutual best friend posted pictures of us in the wake of the news – an image of us squashed into a photo booth, our big heads smashed together, grinning and laughing like crazy idiots, another photo of us smiling in the sunshine of a vividly memorable Northern California off-road adventure and another with us dressed as cheerleaders [yeah – another story for another time]. But when I looked at these photos, holding memories I haven’t revisited in two decades, it opened me up.
I sat down and wept.
We really stopped being close during the last year or two of high school. From there, we moved along life’s trajectories, our individual paths, similar, parallelish realities, and lost touch like childhood friends often do. We went to different colleges, found our different jobs, moved to different places. We married and had two children each. I haven’t seen him in person or heard his voice in over 20 years. And of course, like most people that lose touch, whether they were best buddies, classmates, casual friends, acquaintances, lovers, enemies, student council members, teammates, neighbors, however strong or weak the original connection, almost all of us are brought back together in the age of the internet. My friend and I were “reunited” by Facebook. And yet even still, other than a handful of online messages, catching up on life, references to our time in high school, the good and the bad, sincere offerings to reunite in person, that’s it.
But, as unknown as he is to me now, our trajectories still meet somewhere in the past, the lines of life go back to a friendship, our beings can be traced into the midst of simple, potent nostalgia, to a memory caught somewhere in time, where we lay on our backs, in the cover of night, under the sprawling, hanging canopy of the universe, in an empty lot around the corner from his childhood home, we were best friends together, sharing a rich, formative time of our lives and staring at the stars pinned up in the incomprehensible spread, the infinite making our little friendship and our great human existence both meaningless and like total and complete belonging.
And now, just like that meaningless pressed up against that belonging, it’s as if we’re a part of one another’s lives almost as powerfully as we aren’t. And the ways that we aren’t a part of one another’s lives, they’re so very known. These lives we created, so separate, yet so similar. Grieving for the wife and two children he leaves behind, while still living a life with mine, it cut straight through the chest. That truth, coupled with the memories that make up our friendship, broke my heart.
Do I post all over Facebook about it?
Do I claim I’ve lost the greatest friend a guy could ever have and ever will again?
Do I dismiss it as sad, but considering I hardly knew him anymore, I need to stop being dramatic and just move on with my life?
How do I grieve when the only thing I have left is a pile of old photos and faded memories?
This loss is mine. This part of my life, this fact of my history, this piece of who I am today, whatever it brings up, it only matters that I make space for it. Our loss deserves to be honored. The lost deserve to be mourned, for all the ways they were a part of our lives, and for all the ways they are a part of life.
The point is to open up.
The point is to remember.
The point is he died and you will too.
But for now, you’re alive… the rest is up to you.
Make room for death; make room for life.