Until I learned to appreciate someone’s soul, and found myself willing, even grateful, to let them go though my heart was torn apart to do so; I didn’t really know anything about love. I wrote this letter to my friend, one of my true believers, after his passing in July of 1997. He was 33. I was 30 at the time. He taught me how to rise to the occasion of real love rather than fall, no matter what happens.
I like to think my friend read the letter over my shoulder from his new vantage point. I think he knew the time together in his last week mattered to me more than these words could possibly convey. He taught me how to honor the moments that really matter and to make sure people feel better having spent time with you even if you don’t do anything for them. That’s love. Love for all. He knew that, and I do too because I knew him.
Today is Memorial Day. He was not a military soldier, but he soldiered on through some difficult situations in his life. I’ve been thinking about putting this here for a while, and somehow the timing seems right. In honor of honor:
I know you remember all of this, but I want you to know that I too remember; often and well. Part of this story I didn’t witness, but you told it to me so tenderly that I could see you, a boy of 17, nursing your father. You watched him suffer from colon cancer. You felt him ache with the sorrow of having to leave you. Then one day you became a wise man in your seventeenth year. It was the first day of deer season; the day you and your dad always bought your hunting licenses together. You went to his room and saw him lying there, struggling to hold on to life, to you. I saw the image of you bending down to kiss your dad. I saw your beautiful blue eyes fill with tears that never were allowed to spill over and wet your lashes. You were brave. You told your dad that you would get the licenses for both of you that year and that you were leaving to do so. It was your tradition to go together every year. Then you did the most amazing thing for such a young man living alone with a father that you loved and cared for through the long painful days and nights of cancer. You leaned in and said to him, “Dad, I’m going to get our hunting licenses, and I don’t want you to be here when I get back.” You kissed him and left.
I’ve wondered about how you found the strength to give him permission to go. That must have been an agonizing drive to buy the licenses. I wish I could have been there to hold your hand when you went back into the house. You knew he’d be gone. Just as you knew he wouldn’t leave as long as he was worried about his boy. But a grown man could take care of getting a hunting license. And a grown man would be okay without his dad. You spoke the lovely language of allegory all the time I knew you. Teaching other people about themselves through story. Bless you, for that. And bless you for being so fine and strong for him. I know how much you needed your dad, a need that never left you until you saw your own time shorten. I suppose your need must’ve changed to anticipation.
I witnessed the rest of this story. You, of course, were there too, but I want to tell you how you changed me. Do you recall that last week when we spent time together? Maria called me to come three times that week; you were in a great deal of pain and the bodywork treatments eased that for you.
Monday we talked while I worked with you, offering therapy. I said how glad I was to be able to help you. You said you were mostly glad for the time spent. You showed me how the fluids were collecting in various places on your body and described in detail how having your intestines rerouted felt. We talked the nuts and bolts of your illness. I mourned for you that day and wished to be able to carry the cancer to the end of the earth and throw the demon into the abyss. I would have walked for years to do that. Then you told me about the things you’d been seeing. You knew your were letting go and looked forward to it, I think. You described that peaceful bedroom without windows. Three soft blankets, one blue, one oatmeal, and one mauve, were folded across the foot of the bed. A light in the room that came from nowhere. I knew then, you needed rest.
Wednesday, you said you were losing time. You couldn’t tell when moments passed or follow the flow of events. I didn’t understand, so you explained. I was at your left side massaging your shoulder. Then I walked around the bed to your right side. You said you knew when I was on your left and on your right, but your weren’t aware of my moving. In your awareness I was in one place and then appeared elsewhere in the same moment. Once you’d told me this, I watched you slip into that timeless place, and I followed your eyes as they watched things moving around the room above you. I saw your happy face and felt you relax as you saw whatever you saw. Later you told me about the spring green field and trees that were parted by a white gravel road. A white school bus came down the road toward you. A little girl dressed all in white got off the bus and waited. She must have been your angel.
On Friday, your mom and wife were very sad. I went in to give you treatment. You were not able to talk to me that day. I tried to help you, but you motioned as if to shoo me away. You tried to say something, but I don’t think you were talking to me. You seemed to be concentrating. I felt I was interrupting your conversation with someone else. I wondered if it was your little angel. I kissed your forehead and told you to rest.
On the drive home, I remembered the day you told me you were sick, and I cried. You said not to worry, death was just part of life. You saw the whole of life as a journey and the good, the bad, the happy and the hard was all just part of the trip. You relished the voyage more than anyone I’d ever met. You kept your mind open and your heart tender. You taught me the importance of looking off the cliff before you jump, so you don’t miss a thing on the way down. And if you crack up on the rocks, well, that’s just part of the journey. The most important thing is to keep your eyes open and enjoy the view.
I keep you with me in memory every day. I miss you dear friend, but don’t doubt that I’m enjoying the view from here.
Love much, always,