Grief, Once Removed
This afternoon I sat in an airport in Florida, headed back North to immense piles of snow. I was dealing with a weepy, raw child, who was grieving the end of our visit to his grandparents. He is their only grandchild who cries this way when they leave home to be snowbirds; the only one who grieves so when we leave our brief mid-winter visit to them, as we fly away from the sunshine and warmth. It was alternately heartbreaking to experience his sadness; also we were in the middle of a crowded terminal and I really, really wanted him to just stop.
In the midst of this small crisis, I got an email. It was from a close friend of my father. He is my Dad’s old school buddy and colleague; he wanted me to know that their mutual friend had suddenly passed away. It was someone my Dad had been very fond of – they had enjoyed one another’s humor, wit and intelligence. He thought I would want to know.
There were so many sadnesses that hit me all at once. Sadness for the suddenly dead woman who had made me laugh out loud during various social gatherings. I’d loved listening to her talk. A strange, almost empathetic sadness for my father, who in his absence, isn’t here to witness this unexpected news. And as always, the residual, never far from the surface grief for my father, who has been gone over five years.
There was a startling realization: my Dad died before most of his peers and colleagues. My connection to so many of his friends (whom I ‘d enjoyed so much), is very sporadic, tenuously second hand, or virtually non-existent. They are going to start getting older and older. I’d lost so many of them, these friends whom I’d loved hearing about and occasionally seeing, when my Dad died. Many of them knew me from the time of my birth or childhood. The very small group of people on this planet who can make this claim is now ever-shrinking.
Why was I wanting to feel the loss of this friend for my father, who isn’t around to go to the funeral, to mourn his friend? This is his friend, this group of people are his, not my, social and professional peers. But losing them when he died represented a final passing of a big part of my life – measurable in years as well as in an almost tangible, solid volume. They represent a certain era, a certain place in time and space that is shrinking and will someday be gone, at least to me. The death of this particular woman opens up that wound, which I now realize will be the case whenever I hear this kind of news about my father’s friends. More so when I stop hearing it. (hopefully a long time from now)
My step-mother is going to the funeral. She shared their friendship. Enjoyed her company, and they had all socialized quite a bit. Perhaps she will feel a bit of my father’s presence there, reflected off the grief of their many friends. I am glad she is going – I feel as though she will be there to "represent". For all of us.
in memory of the Honorable Sylvia B Pressler