Sunday, February 6, 2011

Laughing and Crying

What a weird week this one was, of losses and gains. At the top of the "losses" list, I learned of a friend's death Thursday, moments before one of my 23-year-old daughters was walking out the door to leave for a six-month internship. (She will be too far for any visits during that time.) That made for a strange parting for my daughter and me, a collision of emotions, happy and sad. I hated it that she was worried about me  --  that was all backwards.

The next morning, I was surprised to find that I couldn't stop crying for the loss of this old friend, whom I hadn't seen in years and years. (In fact, I didn't even know he had brain cancer, so what kind of a friend could I really even call myself?) The first morning after a death is always the hardest, though, I think: you wake up to a different world and your foggy mind has to wrap itself around the new reality for the first time. So at work, even when I successfully turned my attention elsewhere, the tears kept flowing, like I had allergies, like someone had blown a big puff of pollen in my face. To try to pull myself together, I wrote a letter to my deceased friend, with no intention whatsoever of sharing it with anyone. Then I thought, well, I will share it with my journalism friends who knew him; they will have their own similar stories to add. And from there, with their encouragement, I made it publicly available on this blog. It didn't feel perfectly right, like it was now about self-promotion rather than the ode to a friend originally intended.

One of the gains for the week was the realization that it's been so long since I've been to a funeral, I no longer have "the funeral dress." (How lucky is that?) Lots of you will know what I'm talking about  --  the outfit you pull from the closet solemnly and use for no other purpose. The one that hardly ever sees the light of day, but that's there to save you from having to think about something so dumb as what you will wear when your heart is so heavy. The one that goes on like a cloak of love and respect, no different in its way from the uniforms standing behind a 21-gun salute. It is classically devoid of style or decoration, so that it is ready for duty, no matter the vagaries of fashion at that time. Though my weight hasn't changed since high school, my figure sure has, and I distinctly remember the day some years ago that I decided the Funeral Dress had to go. The split in the seam at the rib cage was officially beginning to show. It felt as though the dress deserved some rites of its own, after all we'd been through together, some of the hardest times in a person's life.

I am old-fashioned in my belief about what to wear to a funeral, but struck out at Abingdon's one dress shop that was open late enough Friday night. So on Saturday morning, this girl who practically wears pajamas to work was rifling her closet in a panic. In the end, I'd gathered just about every black thing I owned, put it on (I was an "onion," I had layers)  --  and looked like I was heading out to fetch myself a new widower. (See? Dumb.) The more I primped to correct the Tart Look, the worse it got. I visited my mother for a little while before the funeral and told her this. She laughed in absolute agreement and said, "Just keep your coat on."

Dang if it wasn't 80 degrees in the funeral home.

There, dumb concerns aside, I became glad that I'd shared the letter to Keith. In it I had described a bubble-world that only some of us knew, so I am glad those memories have been added to "the memory pot," so to speak. As an Atheist-With-Caveats, I don't really believe we "commend souls" at a funeral. I believe we commend memories into the hearts of the people who attend. It's a cliche, but death really does put the meaning in life. Everything we do passes through that filter in some way. We live on in memory, and the influence we had on others.