Sorry for your loss, hello, pleasure to meet you, sorry for your loss, pleasure, sorry it’s under these circumstances, sorry for your loss, hello, sorry, pleasure, circumstances, sorry, loss.
A friend, known him for seven, maybe eight years. Haven’t seen him in I don’t know, three? Two? Four? Talked to him, but haven’t seen him. He’s twenty-nine and his mother had been dealing with cancer for ten years. Ten years. She died four days ago and he’d been at home for at least six months, his life on hold, doing everything he could to care for her. He told me tonight at the funeral service that he felt they’d made some mistakes at the end, that maybe she could’ve had another day if they’d done some things differently, that he’d give anything to have one more day. Those are the numbers. I don’t know how old she was.
I stand in the back with another friend I haven’t seen in years, overheating in the small room, feeling sweat on my back, hearing another service going on in the room right next to us, thinking how strange that is, remembering I’d almost walked into the wrong room when I got there, unprepared as I was for a building full of funerals.
I stand there looking at the backs of heads in the five rows of chairs in front of me, while someone I’ve never met, a pastor and relative of the deceased, goes on about “the fragrance of life” and I wonder for a split second if maybe he’s read Proust. Split second, then no, and then I try to stop thinking entirely. My eyes keep settling on my friend in the front row. He’s still, not looking at the speaker at all, just watching his casketed mother a few feet away from him. Just watching, head tilted slightly to the right, and I’m just watching him, and I can feel him. And then I’m the one who has to look away.
He’s one of the kindest, gentlest, most genuine and caring people I’ve ever met and now he doesn’t know what to do with himself because the kindest, gentlest, most genuine and caring person he ever knew is gone. The day after she passed he told me he thinks his biggest fear all his life has been losing her and now he’s living it. And that he failed her. He, after pouring all his energy into her for months, for years even, thinks he failed her because he couldn’t do something differently and give her another day.
Driving there, thirty miles west of the city, speeding because this time I really couldn’t be late, I realized I’m on some kind of emotional edge these days, recent days, on the precipice of someplace beautiful and deep and otherworldly, inhaling its thick atmosphere, becoming intoxicated with a sense of ardent, earnest purposefulness. To be there for him, tonight, for them, later, whenever they need it, for her, now and without end, distant as she is, because I know, for them all, the loved. To make a difference, make a difference by being there, being me. To my friend, a friend other than the one I drove thirty miles to support, my closest friend, I’ve lately called this equilibrium. Funny to think of equilibrium as an edge, but I’ve thought funnier.
While I drove and mulled my equilibrium I worried about being overcome when I saw him, when I saw on his face what he’d told me the other day through the phone, when I went to shake his hand and hug him and tell him I’m sorry and felt his lostness and his hurt. What would I do or say to help him? What could I? What should I?
While I stood in the back of that hot room watching him watch her, and mr. life fragrance finished his sermon and invited anyone who wished to say something to come up and speak and no one moved, I thought I should, I could. Could I should I? I should.
I don’t know most of you, I don’t even know Maria, not directly, and I’m sorry I’m meeting her here, today, like this. But I do know John, and I know he’s one of the best human beings I’ve ever encountered, and I do not say that lightly or merely because of these sorry circumstances. I also know how much he loved his mom, how he did everything he could to help her and how the compassion and fight and dedication he exhibited came from her. I know because he told me, and he doesn’t lie. And I told him what I know is that he gave his mother the best gift possible: a son to be proud of, a son who makes a difference to the people whose lives he touches. Just by being there.
But I didn’t, and you could say I failed him. He didn’t even know it crossed my mind, of course, had no expectation I’d do any such thing, I’m sure, and certainly doesn’t think I could’ve done more than simply be there, as I was. But what if I had? I know what that would’ve meant to him, know for a fact, while he has no idea, no one does, about what it would’ve meant for his mother if they’d done something else, more, differently. He should rest easy on that front—go ahead and be devastated, but know that he made his difference. I was the one in the back, trying not to sweat or cry, afraid to try something else, more, differently, something I truly could’ve done.
But the truth is I made my difference too. I was there, and that’s what he needed, that’s all. Just like he was and did for her, and that’s what she needed. It’s the difference between difference and differently, I think. It’s equilibrium. Or so I’ve been saying.