Thursday night I shed my suit and slipped into my nightie with a glass of wine, and a quick check-in with my friends via social media. It had been a hectic week, and I was already toasting Friday afternoon.
‘RIP…..’ jumped off the screen and sucker punched me in the gut. My dear friend, fellow poet, creative genius and editor was dead.
Just like that.
My mind reeled back to the last time I saw my friend.
We sat together in the member’s lounge at the AGO, sun streaming through the antique glass windows, distorting the view. He had ordered tea, and as usual, our conversation rambled to nowhere in particular, but deep down to the soul-stuff that fuels us. What a beautiful way to remember someone as genuine, creative and fully present as my friend.
In grief, we must look backward in order to move forward. It’s painful, but it’s an inevitable truth.
When I worked at a hospice, we often preached about treating every interaction with a client or family as if it were the last time we would see them. We did that because good-bye’s are always difficult, and sudden. Every day and every interaction had the imminent potential to be the last time.
It sounds like a depressing way to live, but it is, in fact, a fantastically liberating way to be.
Regardless of my own philosophy of living in a way that honours the human spirit, I inevitably screw up, get selfish, and have regrets. My brain is quick and sharp, and my tongue even sharper.
But with the people in my life whom I cherish, I have very few regrets, if any. Sure, there’s always room for improvement, but generally, I do the best I can with what I have.
That’s it though isn’t it? We always wish we had more; one last conversation, a hug, and some warning that now is the last time.
When I read that my friend was dead, instinct took over and I reached out to his best friend. Another wonderful, gentle and kind spirit whom I knew would have to dismantle his daily routine, and rebuild his life and heart around the cavernous vacancy left by such a wonderful man.
“Why,” he asked. “How do I live without someone who’s been my brother for 23 years?”
He told me he wished he had given his friend one last hug, and I wished I had spent more time with my friend, had reviewed his edits, and learned more. But we can’t go back, and I’m not so sure that we would be better if we could.
Sure, we might be able to have that one last squeeze, or ‘I love you’, but really who could live with the anxiety of knowing too much? We’d all be quivering piles of raving madness. The beauty of the human mystery is not knowing, and the persistent invitation of our collective existence to become better every day.
Beneath the heaps of distraction we invite into our lives, we have a primitive knowledge of our own mortality and, we have to live with that always.
No matter how many times we ask, we will never know why. No matter how much we wish we had one last hug, ‘I love you’ or ‘thank you’ we are never guaranteed that chance. We must live now, in the best way that we can under the circumstances. Having experienced great loss in the past, I have also come to realize regrets are pointless, and forgiveness the greatest gift I can give myself.
Like a forest annihilated by fire, covered in ash, so too do our losses force us to be fallow and lifeless for a while as we replenish our selves to allow for new growth. Life is unrelenting and beautifully bittersweet that way.