Life Interrupted; The Stories We Tell
I hadn’t planned on anyone I know dying this week. I don’t have special powers or control over the universe to know when these things are going to happen. My reaction this week was not out of surprise as much as it was denial. She was just a couple of years younger than me. With her birthday in June, and mine in July, it was dinner one night in August a few years ago and I contemplated getting older and what’s next. My friend in a matter of fact tone said, “I’ve had a double lung transplant, it’s not something I tell people, I don’t want to be known for that, I’m not going to have a next.” Touched by her trust in me, knowing I wouldn’t tell anyone or view her as any different, I said, “Well, here’s to living in the now.
The news of her death and lung transplant confused me. She didn’t want to be seen as that. For a day, I felt as I had betrayed a trust, though I had not said anything. I was agitated and only calmed down when a friend said to me, “She trusted you.” Only then was my head clear enough to understand life and death are different. We want to celebrate, we need the inspiration of the departed, we tell their stories to fill the void they have left behind. The big reveal of the person she really was and gives hope and inspiration for a life well lived. When a childhood friend died from AIDS, the family didn’t speak of it, wouldn’t acknowledge it. The money in lieu of flowers were made to unrelated cause; heartbreaking. We could not celebrate in death who that person fully was in life with the family. It was a relief during a neighbor’s memorial when the eulogizers spoke openly of his suicide. It opened another channel of grief some were dealing with it and gave voice to a struggle. Then there are times when we’re done. I was jolted into numbness by an NBC Dateline trailer last September. The moment was surreal, I knew the murder victim and I knew the story. We’re a team of remote workers, when she wasn’t on an 8:00 am call, a member of the team in Chicago, Illinois immediately called the Austin, Texas police for a wellness check and they found her body. A small memorial in New York with our team broke me; I was done with that and what felt like sensationalism to get TV viewers set be back. I thought back to the memorial when we all said her tagline, “Ole” in her honor. That centered me and helped to get my balance back. Yes, shared grief and remembrances foster healing. We need the memorials, we need those stories when we get thrown off. The memorials in the forms they take are for those of us with lives interrupted.
The last week in June, I walked to meet a friend for lunch. We were both pretty happy because people say, “let’s do lunch,” and it doesn’t happen. Now that I’d moved, this would be easy. Time got away from us and we left the restaurant and walked briskly down the street, no leisurely stroll for us.. We did a quick hug, I said, “We’ll do this again when I get back from Bangkok” and she ran north to catch the shuttle bus back to work and I walked south. Yup, that’s my final memory of my friend Toni, running to catch a bus. She may be gone there are hilarious memories (the fire, spare keys and a hula hoop – you had to be there.) In death, people will tell your story. In life, you shape the narrative. Are you living in the now or for what’s next? What is your story? Is it what you want?