“You aren’t the only one dealing with death, you know.”
I’ve thought about this a lot and written about it before. It’s one of those phrases that rings in my ears many years after it was said.
It was when I decided to quit my job editing for him and his partner.
It was several years after Elena died and I wasn’t consciously bringing her death to the workplace – but it was something that was always with me.
Once you join a club, you notice other club members in ways you never noticed before.
Others who had lost children. Others who had lost parents. Others who had lost spouses. Others who had lost siblings.
Everyone’s death was their death.
Everyone’s death was different, personal, and specific.
No one’s death was easier or harder than my daughter’s.
When a friend of mine lost his daughter to brain cancer he asked me not to tell him what was coming.
Don’t tell him it would be ok.
Don’t tell him it would fade.
I had a friend who called me after Elena died. She told me about her father’s death and how her grief had progressed.
It didn’t help me in any specific way – except that it told me that once the day to day pain had subsided that there would be more that would sneak up on me and overwhelm me. That those times would be profoundly deeper yet less frequent.
Perhaps it was during one of those times that my boss told me that I wasn’t the only one dealing with death.
Those times when it sneaks up on you also happen when others have moved on. You seem mostly yourself again so they have stopped checking on you.
Kim’s death is still too fresh.
No one had to tell me what’s coming. I’ve already lived through the death of a loved one. And yet that doesn’t help me in any specific way.
The election results were a trigger I didn’t see coming. They knocked me flat. It’s as if one loss intensified another. I just wanted to talk about it with Kim.
Since Kim died I’ve become more aware of others in my new club.
A woman Kim had worked with came to the wake. I looked at her in line and knew that she knew. She had lost her husband. She had lost her child.
She got to the front of line and hugged me. She told me Kim was just talking to her about dating again. Kim had known her husband. Kim had worked with her husband’s best friend for many years. Kim had come to help with events for a foundation for this woman’s dead daughter. And Kim was talking to her about dating again.
On election day I headed out for a cup of coffee and to do some work. I just couldn’t focus at home. Maybe it would be better if I went somewhere.
I saw a man I hadn’t seen for a couple of years. We run into each other now and then at coffee houses. Thirty years ago we used to hang out together at the Arabica coffee house on Shaker Square. His wife was a principal in the Cleveland schools and he worked for a company that sold industrial chemicals.
I think of him now and then.
When I go to San Francisco I remember him because he worked on a project with the light rail that goes from the Ferry building to the ball park.
In June I thought of him when a well known former NBA basketball player died. They had been friends since childhood.
He invited me to sit with him. So I did.
He asked me to tell him what’s been happening. So I did.
I told him my wife had been killed in a car accident in August.
He looked up at me with tears in his eyes. His wife had died in September. They’d been married more than fifty years. When I first met him thirty years ago, he’d already been married longer than I would be married to Kim.
He’d just buried his brother in the last couple of weeks. His best friend had died in June. His wife died in September.
And then he told me his youngest son had died a couple of years ago at age 41 from colon cancer.
I told him my youngest daughter had died as well.
We told stories about the losses and then we told stories about the lives.
We sat for two hours.
It was like a club meeting.
You don’t want to join.
I didn’t want to.
The woman at the wake didn’t want to.
The man at the coffee house didn’t want to.
We hope not to add any others.
I’m not the only one dealing with death, you know.