Last week, on facebook, my neighbor found out she had lost an entire branch of her family tree in a fiery crash on a highway in Israel. I am not certain that is the best use of social media, but I also understand the impulse of wanting to get the inconceivable horrible piece of information out as painlessly as possible, and not wanting to tell the horror over and over again. My friend is still stunned. How could this happen--how could your cousin put his wife and two young kids on a plane to visit family and just never come back. In an instant, in an instant, three generations gone. What do you DO with that kind of a loss? I lost my father that way--in the seventh grade, I went off to school, he went off to work, peck on the cheek,and he dropped dead of a heart attack. Gone. I never said goodbye. I never told him how very much I loved him. And still, every day I miss him. Life is that fragile. We don't think about it every moment of the day, because we would go mad, but in a sense, we remain aware of this tragic fact of existence. We live, we die, and sometimes the transition happens in a second, and there is no time for proper passage.
I attended a class of sixth graders this week introduced to the poetic form: Elegy. It was clear that the poem read as an example of the form got to the kids in a way that a typical educational level lecture never could.
And it was equally clear, that many of these children had sustained significant losses. It is not possible to live as a human on this planet for more than a couple of years without suffering painful, altering loss--whether it is to lose your grandmother, a family pet, or your favorite stuffed animal. One of my children has sobbed over growing out of a favorite shirt---I am losing my childhood! I was told. How many mamas miss the babies we once held--bewildered by the grown people they become? Our existences will be marked by loss. Gain as well, but also irreversible loss. My daughter always becomes very distant and cold towards her pets when they get older---if you call her on it she breaks down racked by crying----she doesn't want to love them so much because they are going to die.
Pets can be especially hard,since their lifespans can be short. I did the same exercise that the students in the class did, and wrote this:
The Last Dog
We ran so many forests
Woody and I.
His golden coat shimmering
In afternoon dappled light.
His big grin and tongue lolling.
Now the trees do not call me so much any more,
Without his peppy bark
Urging me onward.
There are other dogs running with me now,
Butterscotch and chocolate brutes
But not retrievers.
I love them also,
But I have not forgotten
My feathered golden friend with deep sad eyes
My boon companion
The thing I have been unable to convince my daughter is that to hold back love is to miss the good part of the tragedy of our fragile and always too short lives. That the loving itself is the payoff, and the compensation for the pain of the loss. You
lose the experience of the person in your daily life but you never lose the memory of having loved.
Be sure to speak that love to those in your life, because you never know when the ongoing narrative of a life will come suddenly to an end. Just make sure the story is as filled with love as it can be and SAY that love. For those left behind,
especially if there is no chance to say goodbye, it is the gift that we are left with.
And remember. They have not died until the last person who remembers them has died.