So my friend The Irishman died on Thursday. I missed him by about ten minutes. I still went into the room, hoping he hadn’t quite left the building. I told him how I had taken a walk up the beach the prior evening, handed him the shells I had selected for him, relived the conversation his good buddy and I had whilst running, and showed him the photograph of the brilliant night sky when we had finally finished our training. I wished him Happy Trails, hoped we would meet again someday. As I left Hospice, I remembered the cloud of witnesses…those who had gone this route prior, and those who were soon embarking on his same journey. And as I sat at Starbucks with a tablet of paper, scribbling wise thoughts, I believed I put it all to rest.
I had forgotten about “grief”. You’ve heard it said that people grieve in their own way; some weep, some moan, some can’t carry on, some never shed a tear. How I grieve for contemporaries seems to be quite different than my experience with “older” people. I have not lost a contemporary in a few years, so my grief came unexpected.
When DM was dieing, he appeared to me while driving. There I was on the Courtney Campbell Causeway in rush-hour traffic when I looked over to see him in my passenger seat. Didn’t say anything, but I got it. I was happy as he chose to pass. When James died, he became known as the “big giant head”. He followed me around for three weeks. He stayed in the upper right of my periphery; when I turned, he moved a little more to my right. Never said a thing, just looked at me with that whimsical smile of his.
I frantically asked some clergyman about The Big Giant Head that was haunting me. He said it made perfect sense. “YOU have a big giant head”, he said. “Big mouth, big eyes, big voice, big animations. You’re just big. AND you seem keyed in on facial expressions…which you’re big on. Why shouldn’t people’s faces and heads and eyes and smiles follow you around?”. (Jame’s head disappeared right after that)
The day after the Irishman died I went home instead of to the pool in the middle of the afternoon. I just needed a twenty minute nap; not odd for me. I set the alarm for thirty minutes, but hit it off in a deep slumber when it tried to wake me. Fell back into a deep sleep.
In my dream, The Irishman was in his hospital bed. I plopped down on the bed (something that was far too intimate of a gesture for me while he was ill) and we began to talk. I have no idea what the conversation was, but it ended with one of those high five/hand slaps/ knuckle bumps that you give people when you’re…”with them”. You know, in sports they roughly translate to “Good job, I wouldn’t have done it without you, I’ll tell you that when I can breathe again, we’re freaking awesome, shit that hurt but I’d gladly do it again just to feel this good, and I know by the way that you look and are looking at me that you totally feel the same way”. The look in his eyes echoed that, and looked incredibly…joyful. All knowing. It was a big Irish laugh to go with his big Irish smile and his big colorful eyes. He rolled to his right side, took a deep breath, and went to sleep. I sat there, knowing that I wouldn’t move and disturb his slumber.
And I awoke with such a start. I didn’t know where I was, what time of day it was, where I should have been, or what I should have been doing. I was a little spooked…until I remembered that it’s just the way I do things.
People enter your life, and even if it’s a small part of your entire existence you open your heart to them. For the last six months or so I have prayed for him and thought about this leg of his journey every day, his life being woven into the fabric of mine. He allowed that, giving up a little bit of his heart. A little chunk of my being has passed away with him. That’s a little sad.
But my life has been changed, for the better, because of his existence and exit strategy. Luckily, it is that look in his big eyes, the sound of his brogue, and his big belly laugh that will stay with me the longest.
And THAT shall change the way I proceed on my journey from here.
Ar dheis De go raibh a anam dilis.
And, somehow, this just seems more fitting than anything else…