Another friend died today. He was just past 50, and died after an illness. We weren't super close, but I did stay with him for a week in New York when he was doing a show there a few years ago. He was a light, fun fellow. He brought a lot of joy to people and smiled and laughed a lot. I always loved seeing him and we always gave each other a big hug. The last time he said we should get together for coffee.
For years I kept track of the people I knew who died - friends, colleagues, teachers, relatives. For a time I knew many people under 40 who died in freakish ways, from serial killer to suicide to cancer to meningitis to flesh eating virus. One day you'd get a call that someone had succumbed to a surprise illness and had left behind a partner, a child. Or there was an accident. So many surprising, unexpected ways. Grief is strange, unpredictable, which is all I've learned of it. I wrote a poem about it once -
Is a ring, an undertone
A tuning fork struck
Again again unexpectedly again
To begin -
The other day some circuitous thoughts led me to Joan Didion. Come to think of it, it's her quote, "a writer is always selling someone out," which is usually how she comes to mind, thinking of some idea and how it might offend someone. Anyhow, I thought of her loss of her husband and child in quick succession, and how insurmountable it must be to bear that loss. Then the thought came to me that there's some virtue in being the one left to turn out the lights. There must be. We'll all go. It's the unavoidable end we push from our minds so we can live our lives. It's probably just as hard to leave the the party when it's going, but there is some comfort to be taken in being the one to stay and clean up, to bear the grief, to continue the memory. That's how I look at it anyway, or have to. Someone came to the party and left. I hope he had a good time, and I'll certainly miss him.