My husband ran out of the coffee shop yelling at me, “Erin, look inside…It’s him!” That was all he could speak to me. His words were lost in his dry mouth from shock. I ran into the coffee shop and there I saw him, standing by the counter sipping on a latte with the hat he always wore when we were in school together. He was wearing the tie-dye shirt we made together. He was smiling and laughing, his dark hair shining in the orange glow of the café, his dark smooth skin more beautiful than I had ever remembered. He knew why I was shocked to see him. I could feel the whites of my eyes revealing to him my disbelief that he was standing there.
“What happened?” I got out breathlessly, also losing my words in my throat. My husband ran in behind me and we stared at him together. “You died.” I stated simply, as if he didn’t know. I began to cry, hot tears that flushed my cheeks.
He looked at me, also saddened by it all and then said, “It was a mistake. I have been lost in India and that body they found wasn’t mine.” I threw myself into him arms. I held him, my head resting in his chest. I could hear his heart beating against my ear. I closed my eyes and began to sob. My husband fell over me, and both of us held our tall beautiful friend as we cried.
One by one all of our friends came into the coffee shop and we all held him, our dear long-lost friend. We were all crying with, with what? Disbelief and joy, a grief reborn into wordless bliss. He wasn’t dead. He was alive.
Then I woke up. My bed was hot and wet with sweat and I could feel the ball of tension that had formed in my throat. It was such a real dream. I could still feel him holding me. I closed my eyes and there he was again, smiling at me, alive. I opened my eyes to the dark room and the grief swept back over me. He was dead. Of course he was dead, he died over a year ago. We all know he is dead.
I laid back down and rolled over to hold my husband, who was not in the coffee shop but having his own dreams filled with memories from the waking life. I prayed he was dreaming of peaceful and beautiful memories and that his mind was not playing evil tricks on him as mine had done that night. I spent the rest of the night rolling in and out of sleep mixed with a desire to meet and hold my friend again, entertain the possibility that he might actually be alive, and the deep sickening knowing that he was dead and there was nothing I or anyone could do about it.
Life is peculiar. We are born, we grow into the world, we live a life full of meaning (good and bad) create relationships with others and then we die. People and things full of life are intertwined into the fabric of our lives and then, when it doesn’t seem like much time has passed at all we must say goodbye as one by one people, things and we fade away. A part of me wants to say that this is the circle of life, the way the world goes round, we have to live in the now because life is short and so on and so forth. Then another part of me wants to say, “Bullshit.”
Loss and grief are strange things. There’s no rational way for it to happen, it sneaks up on you when you least expect it: cleaning out your garage you find that ball your old dog used to play with when she was still alive. Walking down the street you see someone and you swear it’s her, the one you lost. Watching a movie you’ve watched a thousand times now reminds you of him because you once watched it together. A word, a smell, an image, a color, a dream, all of it at any moment can trigger that memory of that loved one lost. Or perhaps everything you see reminds you of them, and all you can see, hear and smell is them. Whatever way grief has its way with you there’s no way out and most of the time, like death, there is nothing we can do to control it when it comes.
So what can we do with this? What do we do with this life? Well, running from it, as bullshit as it is, won’t help you. You can run and run but one day it will sneak up on you and it will be like The Hoover Dam breaks open and floods everything. Pretending like it isn’t there when it’s looking you in the face will only cause you to go insane. So all that’s left is to face it and embrace it when it comes, because it will inevitably come.
This coming week we will celebrate Halloween, a holiday that centers around death and darkness in rather ridiculous ways but we also will celebrate All Souls Day, the Day of the Dead, a holiday that also centers around death but in a way that opens for us the possibility to grieve the loss of our loved ones.
We don’t know where life will take us and what grief will strike us, but I do know that in death and loss we learn a great deal about life. The loss of my friend has taught me to embrace my death, whenever it comes, and in the face of this understanding I attempt to live as fully as possible in each day I have been given. We must go forward and keep on the journey because as we incur loss we are given more knowledge of what lies ahead and a better insight into the beauty of this very short life we have all been given. I encourage you to grieve this coming week if need be, for all those souls who have touched your life and have faced their death.
Remember, life is short. Death will come and grief will insist on teaching us.
The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.*
Dear God, in the face of this death give us life so that we may live it and
keep on with the journey ahead. Amen.
*Excerpt from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring