Thursday I hurried through the Houston airport trying to make a tight connection. The flight from San Antonio parked at the far end of the E concourse while my flight to Cleveland would leave forty-five minutes later from as far away as I could be on the C concourse.

I knew I had plenty of time but I still hurried along. In my final leg I found myself matched step for step by a father and his young son.

The boy looked at his father without slowing and asked, “what if mommy doesn’t get to the plane on time?”

The dad looked down, smiled, and reassured the boy, “she will.”

“But what if she doesn’t?” the boy insisted.

The man took a few steps to think before answering. “Well,” he said in his soft British accent, “then we’ll come back and get her.”

“All the way from Cleveland?” the boy asked.

“All the way from Cleveland,” his dad answered.

What a perfect answer. In that moment the dad had given his son such a gift. The boy looked up at his dad with relief and admiration. All of the things that could go wrong with his mom making the flight didn’t matter. If they had to, they’d come back for her all the way from Cleveland.

Someone I follow on Twitter noted that one of his skills is “to remove more stress from a room than he contributes.” The dad had done that and more. Often people want comfort and caring. They just need to know that someone cares enough to listen.

I’m at the cemetery again on father’s day. I began my day with an awesome card from Maggie and breakfast with her and Kim. I’ve spoken with my dad and brother and now it’s time for me to spend time with Elena. I know she’s not here but it comforts me.

People come and go.

Twenty yards beyond me a man sits down on the ground next to his dad’s grave and says, “Well, it’s your day.”

He sits next to the grave and chats with his dad much as they must have while he was alive. Not long ago Elena’s grave was at the back of this section. Now it’s about half way back. By the time the section is filled she’ll be just about a third of the way in.

The man sits in what is now the back row. His dad must have died this year. It’s his first father’s day without his father. A couple joins him at the gravesite. The woman seems to be his sister. They chat for a bit while The husband smokes and wanders off to another grave twenty yards to my left.

I can’t imagine their loss. My dad is still around. We can IM, talk on the phone, and in a couple of weeks go to a ball game the way we have for fifty years. Every few minutes another car pulls up, people get out and spend time at a grave — usually a few moments — and then they move on.

After I left my last gig I got a note from one of the partners. It said, “You aren’t the only one dealing with death, you know.”

I know.

I know that as I sit in the graveyard watching others and I know when I sit in coffee shops on ordinary days. There are people who want to talk to me about the deaths in their lives because they know about mine and there are people who want to talk to me about the deaths in their lives without having any idea of Elena. They’re just looking for caring. For comfort.

I’m not the only one dealing with death.

I know.

And everyone’s death is more important to them than mine and that’s the way it should be. The week that he sent that I had spent four days intimately involved with other people’s deaths. Two people I know are dying and two people I knew had died.

I sat with one person who is dying at the public library while Maggie was at soccer practice. She looked great. She’d been fighting cancer and it looked as if she had won.

She hadn’t.

She was managing her pain and preparing her daughter and friends for a life without her. I listened not knowing what to say. I did have the sense not to say “You aren’t the only one dealing with death, you know.”

She knows.

No one has more of a right to be selfish than this amazing woman sitting beside me.and yet that’s not who she is. She gave Maggie such a love for the written word. Maggie had always loved to read but in fourth grade she learned to slow down and let the words run around her mouth a bit before swallowing.

This woman is never in a hurry. She moves slowly–no slowly is the wrong word–but she is unhurried. She gives full attention to what is in front of her.

She has so little time left that I don’t want to take too much of it. She listens to me intently and speaks in a voice full of thought and kindness. Without taking too much of her precious time—and it is precious— I want her to know how much I value the time she’s given us.

If you knew you only have a fixed amount of time on earth, would you spend it differently?

We talked about books and about mutual friends. We talked about our daughters. She geared up now and then and I didn’t pretend not to notice. She doesn’t have time for such silliness. Mainly she’s concerned about her daughter. Her daughter has lost one parent and now in her mid twenties is about to lose another one.

Unlike the little boy in the airport, there’s nowhere for her daughter to fly to when her mother stops making this journey with her. She’s going to want to for many years.

I know.

I’m sitting in front if Elena’s grave during the fifth Father’s Day since she died. If I could fly and get my baby and bring her back I certainly would. All the way from Cleveland.

Published in: on June 20, 2010 at 7:33 pm  Comments (10)  

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10 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. […] Comfort « Dear Elena […]

  2. Still think of you guys often. I live in Houston.

  3. It’s hard to believe that someone could be so cruel as to suggest you are selfish to grieve your daughter’s death. Any one of us could be in that unenviable position at any time. Personally, I can’t imagine being able to function one iota if I were in your shoes. And yet I understand that you have to, so you keep plodding along, trying to manage while life keeps pushing you forward.

    The important thing that partner should have realized and integrated into his life is that many people are dealing with death and extreme illness and other hardships. That makes it extra critical that we be kind to those we come across. I think maybe what he was saying is that some of us are more vocal with our pain and some hold it in. The lesson is not to punish those more vocal – but to be “kinder than necessary, because everyone you meet is fighting a fierce battle.”

    I recall when my father-in-law was sick and – we thought dying – in the hospital. At the time I just could not understand how the whole world could keep running at this fast pace when people were dying. I felt the same thing when my uncle passed away from pancreatic cancer a few years ago. I felt pushed along by the pace of life, forced to move forward without truly having a chance to process all that was happening. However, my father-in-law recovered and although I loved and miss my uncle, we never had a lot of regular contact when he was alive.

    But a child or a parent – anyone close and an integral part of your life – leaves a giant hole. I imagine trying to heal is like trying to fill up the Grand Canyon a shovelful of dirt at a time.

    I’m rambling. The point is that we as human beings need to slow down and support each other. We need to recognize that everyone could use our kindness and support and love. We need to understand that we actually know very little. We need to think with our hearts more often.

  4. Your blog has left me in tears. You sound like a good man and a loving father. You and your family are in my prayers.

  5. Daniel–I still check for Dear Elena entries from time to time. I think about her and you and your family often. even though i never met Elena, I feel I know her through your writing. thank you for this amazing blog. I have learned so much from you about what it means to lose someone so important.

  6. Reading this blog entry of yours, and knowing the source of that mind-blowingly thoughtless comment (“you aren’t the only one dealing with death, you know”), unleashes emotions in me akin to a fiercely protective sister-bear in an old fable.

  7. Everyday I hug each of my kids and tell them how special they are, in part because of Elena.

    There is this greatest joy with having kids and the infinite falling that comes with losing someone so much a part of your life.

    I don’t remember how I found this blog years ago, but I am glad I did.

    I hope my children will bury me and not the other way around.

  8. I’m sorry for the insensitivities you must experience more often than you share. Having known Elena and lost her changed my life. It still seems unreal. And I was only her friend. The depth of your loss and change is unfathomable. Like others, I check in periodically to read your beautiful words, and once again, I thank you for sharing them.

  9. Your words and sentiment from your days of frequent writing are with me still, though we have never met. I am sorry for those who are ignorant or careless in choosing words. Thank you for sharing your story – it has helped form me as a parent, and appreciate things that I have – and “let go” of things that shouldn’t eat me/us up. Thank you for your contribution to my family!

    The ripple effect is always greater than we know….

  10. I was following your blog from the very beginning (I stumbled over your extreme teaching blog first), and just wanted to say… well, difficult to express (maybe a reason that I didn’t comment earlier — and sorry, english ist not my native language). I’ll try.

    You sound like a wonderful father for both of your kids, and I was very very sorry for you that Elena died. She is not forgotten (if that has any meaning to you, that strangers like me think of her).
    And your blog did another thing — I learned much from reading about valuing the time that we have, this became very much more important after my daughter was born (nearly 3 years ago now).

    I’d just like to say thank you for sharing your thoughts.

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