29 April, 2012
From every sleeve I push my arm into, out flies a soggy tissue; sweaters, nighties, jackets, it’s all the same, as if every sleeve is a designated mourner: the left for D, the right for M. Two friends gone in 5 days.
On Tuesday we sat Shiva for M. On Wednesday we flew to Paris for D’s funeral,
Flying from death to death. Days, countries, time zones all stretched beyond their limits. I grieve for my 2 friends and feel sorrow for the widows, the children, Joel…all our lives forever changed, all our deaths a little nearer. Memories arrive like uninvited guests trying to fill the space where once a being breathed.
Life. Death. The one so complicated, the other unadorned. One so often wasted, the other laying waste to us. There is no such thing as a bargain, yet how we try. Already I’m at it, swearing to quit sugar, return to yoga, walk 2 miles a day. Anything for more life, even though more life means more loss.
It’s such a beautiful day; the sun constant in a pale blue sky, a strong breeze roughing up the surface of the Hudson River. We take our weary bodies down to Riverside Park and walk through the dappled light; light and shadow fluid, indefinable and so very alluring, the lacy pattern turning the path beneath our feet into a watery surface – even the ground is without stability. Perhaps that is the gift of death; the way it strips us of illusion. The moments when we gasp in disbelief are fleeting, a quick blast of reality that for one split second we say ‘no’ to and then, little by little, soften to, say ‘yes’ to, and move on.
For really, there is no time to waste in looking back. If I choose to look back then let me choose the wonderful memories, the life sustaining ones. Like last weekend in the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens with A and D, and our 3 year-old granddaughter. The cherry blossoms in last hurrah, sitting pretty pink on their branches. Couples, friends, families sitting or laying below them, looking up through all that pink chiffon to the bluest of skies. A moment of communal bliss heightened at intervals by strong breezes shaking the petals loose, the blossoms falling to the ground in a blizzard, their time on earth over.
Our granddaughter begins gathering the fallen petals and together she and I put them in her pink sunbonnet. She runs from tree to tree, “come on Nana, we need more,” and I wonder if this will be one of her memories of me, when I am gone.
In the hospital a dozen of us gather to help M make his last journey. We weep, and share memories about him and laughter fills the room like a sudden breeze. Outside the window, Central Park is lush, dressed in its spring greens, and if you wander down its paths you will be drenched in lilac perfume. We watch the pulse in M’s throat slow, and then he’s gone.
Four days later, in Paris, spring is everywhere, although the day is gunmetal grey and slightly raw. On the drive from the church to the cemetery young couples walk along the Seine. The Arc de Triumph lives up to its name.
We fling red and white roses onto the coffin, the beads of holy water still there. I toss in a handful of sand from the bay where Joel and he swam together some 500 times and feel an unexpected rush of joy.
We are all the ongoing sum of everything that ever was and is. Paltry and magnificent, our lives add to the equation even as our bodies are subtracted. There really is no end.
A spontaneous circle of family and friends forms by the grave, widening like the ripples in a pond. Into the circle a solitary white feather floats to the ground.