June 2, 2008


In January, two people in my life died within a week’s time. One was a relatively new friend whose overtures to me were heartwarming and welcome; and one was a longtime warm acquaintance whom I grew to admire and respect. Each of them left something of themselves in me in life and in death.

The first of these friends had a strong connection to an online community, and a large group of people gathered online to grieve. I joined them, and I’ve never experienced anything like it. She was greatly loved, mostly for her affectionate and supportive presence in our lives. Many expressed what they think has happened to her, now that she is no longer on the mortal plane. Even in my grief, it was fascinating to read how people found comfort through their beliefs in the afterlife. Is she aware of how we feel about her, now that she is gone? Is she present in our lives, following what we do and what we think, simply because we loved her?

I, too, believe in an afterlife; but I couldn’t begin to tell you what I believe about its nature—only what I hope. From my father’s death when I was eighteen, I have wondered if he knew what was happening in my life. Every single major event in my life, I have missed him: my college graduation, my wedding, the birth of my children and their accomplishments, the illnesses and terrible moments of pain. Are you there? Do you know? Do you see?

I wonder too about my brother, whom I hardly knew in adulthood. Does he see what his death from AIDS has wrought in my life? Is the small amount of work I do for the HIV/AIDS community just for me—which is enough—or does he see and understand?

I can’t know the answer to these questions, but I find myself deciding that, if they are aware, those who have gone before me would be happy for me in my life because I am basically at peace. My life has changed because of each of these people, and some were aware because I told them so. As much effect as a death has on me, it is given meaning in the life that was lived and the one I choose to live as a result.

And so I am left with some final, unknowable questions: What will be said when it is my turn? And will I hear? All I can say to my loved ones is, God willing, I will be there; I will watch; I will listen; and I will continue to love you with all my heart until the end of time.


Sooo-this-is-me said...

Very interesting that you wrote this post Birdie as I have been thinking a lot in the last week about life, death, the afterlife and God. I have no answers only more questions.

bigislandjeepguy said...

i have had many different versions of parts of your post with people; re: my brother's passing, my mom's...and with other people about their friends and such.

one of my coworkers talked about the fact that when a friend of hers died, she wondered how many of those wonderful things that were said at his memorial had ever been conveyed to him in his life? how much his sense of humor was valued? how much happiness he brought to people? we talked about how important it is to let people we care about know each and every day just how *much* we care. it's a tough thing to do.

with my mom's passing, my sister and i have talked about "milestones" in our lives and how sad it was that mom will never get to share them. she will not witness her grandchildren growing up and seeing what fine young adults they have turned out to be. she will not share in our joy and happiness, and in our sorrow, too.

and i, too, am on the same page with you re: your brother. i wonder had i come out to him earlier and had he not died, would we have ever gotten close? his has been the only very close death i have witnessed from AIDS and it has changed my life in ways i never knew it could or would. his friends could only give me bits and pieces of what they knew of him, and your friends always know a different side (i think) than your blood family. there were times i felt they told me *way* too much about him and things i never wanted to know, really. my sister took some of it really tough, too. i will always have a million things i never said or questions i never asked. and i wonder, too...if he looks at me and is proud of who i am and who i have become. the dynamics of oldest son/youngest son was always a tough one for us to manage.

i wholeheartedly agree with: "as much effect as a death has on me, it is given meaning in the life that was lived and the one i choose to live as a result." i have often stated that my mom's and brother's passing changed me irrevocably. there has been pain i wished i could erase, but learning that has been a sad trade-off.

thank you for such a great post; one that totally resonates with me!

Bill said...

It's odd to think that there is an unknown date lurking on the calendar that marks our death. This post reminds me of the when a butterfly flaps its wings concept.
I became familiar with death at the age of five when I saw my grandfather die. A few months later, my favorite uncle. My best friend when I was nine. Others, including my father, my partner (AIDS), my mother, and more. I'm a better person for having known each one, and I carry part of them with me as I move toward my own special day on the calendar.

If my blind date arrives before yours, I'll leave the light on for you.

Anonymous said...

I believe that the people we've loved and lost live on THROUGH us. When we honor them with an action or a thought, that is how we are keeping them with us. I don't believe they are aware of us, I believe that in these moments, we are more aware of their impact on us while they were here.

Cooper said...

That Pat Metheny piece is exquisite. It is cradling me as I read this post, and feel the tears spill down my cheeks. Having lost all my immediate family, I have pondered these questions so often. They have become a daily part of who I am. Sometimes I speak them out loud, "Nana, it's me. Do you see me, hear me, know my heart?" I wonder if my mother has found the peace she failed to find on earth. My grandfather, too ...does he feel worthy of being loved?

What I have is hope, no answers ... but hope. I have to believe that all this ...the beauty, the mystery, the joy, the sorrow, the fragility of our very humanity ... has a deeper meaning.

bigislandjeepguy said...

well said, heartinhand. i second that!

Patrick said...

Some days, I find myself comforted by the thought that our memories of people, and the actions they inspire is as fine an afterlife as any. When our memories are of love, joy and inspiration, when our lives are obviously enriched by the presence of the loved one, what better legacy could one have?
This doesn't work for me all the time. Precious little does, of course. But your remembering, and chronicling those memories, feels for me today like you're doing your part to build heaven for those fine folks.

somewhere joe said...

I think our loved ones do live on with us, as long as their memory lives. Just today, I thought fondly of my mother... I was hanging up a fern after giving it a soak, and pulled my shoulder. "Ow!" I found myself saying to the fern. "I hurt my shoulder. I hope you're grateful." ,oD Or some other maternal wit or wisdom, or my dad's way of looking at things, or an uncle's catch phrase, or a snatch of a pop tune that brings back a bygone friend... you can almost hear a heavenly 'tink.'

I believe in the communion of saints. How that plays out in everyday life, and in our conversation with the deep belongs, for the time being, to the realm of spirit and mystery and faith.