It has been one year since my step mother Susan made her sudden departure from this life. Some friends gathered for a picnic over the weekend, to celebrate her memory. It was a rainy day, but those of us who attended were grateful to be there, standing around the little native Redbud tree dedicated in her honor at the local park. We spread some ashes and nicely composted mule manure, and appreciated each others’ company. I wrote this for the occasion:
It’s been a year now since any of us has seen Susan, in the flesh. I know many of us have looked for her, in the usual places, and wished she would show up. It’s been long enough now to begin to wrestle with the reality that our friend is not returning, not the way she was before.
And its been long enough to really know why we wish she was here. Susan was a beautiful person. She delighted in life’s beauty and took pleasure in contributing to it. She enjoyed making a space fun and inviting, and making an occasion special. We feel her absence in our gatherings and seasonal festivities. We miss her special touch.
Susan also loved the woods. Not just as a concept, but as a HOME. It is a trait that many of us here share and understand in each other, and in the past as, as I have tangled with all the tangential impulses that accompany the loss of a loved one, it has been a comfort for me to know that Susan spent her last few hours at home in the woods, exactly where she wanted to be. In one of our last phone conversations, she was there in the Hollow, and she remarked, “It’s just so beautiful out here.”
She also expressed her gratitude to our good neighbor, Chuck, for mowing the yard. And now I do the same. Every time I pull up Henry Hunter Lane, into the modest clearing where site the house I know so well, I too think that it is so beautiful, and I also thank Chuck for mowing.
I have thought often over the past year about death and dying and how difficult a concept it is for us, the living. There go our friends, our family, away from us, it seems, to someplace we can’t know about. We might hear theories about what goes on. We probably believe some of those theories and disbelieve others. Some of us study on it quite a lot, but we can not experience it, all the way, until we experience it, and after that, it appears fairly difficult to get a message back to the rest of us to let us in on whatever reality exists beyond that veil. So there’s some amazing quality of un-knowing going on when we are put face to face with that reality.
Un-knowing, ignorance, can be frustrating for us big-headed bipeds.
But, I have my own ideas, coping mechanisms perhaps, to bring to the fumbling place of loving and losing that we have been through in the past year.
When we most miss our friend and most wish she were with us to share some moment, what if we summoned the courage to cut through our grieving and our ideas about dying and going away, and we just looked for her instead? We have to look for her differently now. She won’t be laughing with a cup of coffee in her hand on the other side of the table from us. But it may be that she can be found inside each of us, just in the way that we know her so well, enjoying that moment, just the same.
So, when we are appreciating some specially enchanting piece of life, or seeking that beauty inside a struggle, and we wish she was there to share our joy, or add wit or wisdom to our conflicts, perhaps we are summoning her, inside of ourselves, and so in that way the enjoyment is magnified, and the storm is calmed. And all the more, when we share a good space with each other, when we connect the different pieces of memory that each of us carry together, and bring them into the present moment and appreciate who she was to each of us, then, I believe that in some way she is here, as well. Not held back from anywhere else, not restricted by body, politics, or finance, but carried forward with the same love that carries us all.