Monday, January 18, 2010

Build a ladder to the stars

A year and a half ago, my longtime friends and I buried one of our closest and oldest friends, a young man who overcame more in 22 years than any of us will overcome if we should all live to be 75. Deep, deep beneath the grief we all experienced, we secretly dealt with the idea of mortality, of the importance of treating each day as if it were an excavation mission- no potential untapped, no moment un-lived. Deeper still, I sometimes thought one terrible thought to myself: so it was Dan. Dan, who would be lost too young, who would be taken from us. But it would only be Dan. Certainly, one friend was enough. Surely, the unbearable feeling of loss that we all went through was something that wouldn't be repeated until we were old enough to have lived full lives. Leaving behind a will, a paid-off mortgage, and darling grandchildren, we would slip from the earth in the last minutes before dawn on a quiet Saturday morning.

When we lost Dan, my friends and I found solace in one another- we hosted a memorial barbeque, attended the wake and funeral all together in a cluster, afraid to let anyone slip out of the group grieving for even a moment. Standing next to the 10 or so people that I have known best for 10-15 years, looking over the casket at our childhood playmate and first crush, was an experience that I can't accurately describe. For years, I'd wondered what was so special about us. What made our group stand together as others disintegrated, what made us able to change from similarly-minded adolescents to politically and ethically diverse adults without losing any respect or adoration for one another. In that moment, we made perfect sense. We were able to survive the loss of Dan only because we didn't fall over when we heard- we fell together.

When, 5 days before Christmas, I heard that an off-shoot of this same close group had also passed, succumbing to a brutal fight with testicular cancer, I was even more lost than before. I was filled with so much anger that I couldn't think on my own, much less collectively process Justin's death with my friends. These were the same boys that I'd listed as potential husbands in a MASH game, that I'd sang alongside in school musicals. Why were they both robbed of adulthood? I wondered. My original logic, however cruel, that one had died so the rest of us could all live, was ripped out from under me. My intrinsic desire to make sense of any situation, no matter how senseless, was lost. I was lost.

We attended the funeral, saying little to one another as we all half-smiled and hesitantly patted each other's backs encouragingly. Last time, we comforted one another with the cliches- Dan died doing what he loved, he fought through cancer so he could have an extra ten years, he wouldn't want us to be sad. This time, the cliches weren't enough, the process wasn't comforting. When I heard one friend say, "We just all need to be together right now", I thought to myself, We do? I didn't want to be comforted by the group because it meant that we had a developed course of action for this. To instinctively know how to bury and memorialize your friends at age 24 is fucked up. I'd rather fight the grief than fall into a pattern, I decided.

I still don't know much of anything, of course don't know why we had to lose them both. I do know this: childhood friendships are not nearly as tenuous as they seem. They might start with something as silly as a kickball game or a hair tug in math class, but they can be built upon and sustained over decades, cresting with events that shock you back into each others' familiar embraces. I'm grateful to have such a group, and humbled that we have continued to hold one another tight in even the most difficult of situations. Even though I tried to attend that funeral alone as a means of coping, I was still constantly surrounded by the group that made me who I am. I wasn't alone for even a second.


Laurel said...
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Laurel said...

I find it odd that I loved reading this last blog by you, as morbid as some of the topics were, but it is comforting that some of the feelings you were feeling are similar feelings that i was feeling. Although some of us may have tried to cope alone, i understand how you were saying it was almost impossible to not because of long lasting friendships at bonds of nativity.