“Mommy told me your friend died.” He said it solemnly, with some apprehension. I knew that he was feeling sad about his great-grandfather having passed away earlier in the pandemic because Mommy (my sister) told me that.
It’s not even 8a. This newest part of pandemic has found me up before dawn to make the hour + drive up to my sister’s to attempt to oversee his home part of his education. I had been elected by all sides of the family due to my incurable bossy boots which are an asset to this expedition. Mostly, it’s gone well. We take walks while he zooms ahead of me, yelling back about his friends and his favorite shows. We slog through our assignments while I chant various mantras like, Eat the frog and then the hard part will be over! We can do hard things! It’s okay to make mistakes! IT’S ALSO OKAY THAT I OCCASIONALLY MAKE A MISTAKE AS WELL, TINY NEPHEW AS WE ARE BOTH HUMANS.
I make us breakfast and lunch, I set him up for his Zoom band classes. I have drafted MFHG (My Favorite Houseguest) into giving virtual proto-coding lessons using Minecraft using some kind of proto-Only Lovers Left Alive electronics set up. I have drafted JohnM to give occasional guest lectures on cartoons of substance such as Steven Universe and Adventure Time. We have found a nice little routine that suits both of us pretty well all told. He is almost nine now and I can reach back into the recesses of my vague memory to try to explain erosion, weathering and deposition.
I think about my friend. How it’s really hard to explain to a child that the part that makes me saddest is that this door to my future with friend is now mostly shut. We have no future parties we can go to together., we will never become closer, we will never spend a party talking for hours in someone’s kitchen. I think about how banal our last conversation was, it was about using an app to save money. I think about how good the babka that she brought to one party was. How she was so beautiful and vibrant that I still cannot fully manage to think of her as was.
This of course, immediately brings me to another friend (AF). AF’s mother (AFM) passed earlier pandemic. This mother was part of my circle, I knew her before I knew AF, really. AFM gave me my first real magical experience. She told me that I should take the meds for my depression, that I’ll still be able to write and I will probably write more regularly that way. She was right. Jow was her nurse for a while in the hospital, crossing our paths again.
Since it’s pandemic, regular funeral rites were mostly suspended when AFM died. This was mostly okay, because AFM would have hated the whole patriarchal American non-dom experience anyway. AFM is cremated and some of her ashes are made into a blown glass orb. This is a process and takes a while. In the interim, AF sketches a funeral outline that AFM would like better anyway and it’s agreed that myself and OtherBestie (OB) will do the service privately in OB’s living room.
When I was younger, I felt like doing important rituals in living rooms demeaned the rituals because I was a pompous little thing. Also, it’s hard to not feel that way when you were raised Roman Catholic. But here, more than twenty years later, as I stared at OB’s Ikea living room table, I was comforted by it. Because by this point, that felt more like an altar anyway. Besides, I was also allowed to touch it and put food on it so it got to be a far more bustling altar than my childhood altars, which seemed like a happier life for it. OB was making us autumnal squash soup for after. Sometimes, admittedly, that was what would get me through a trying rite, thinking about the food after.
AF cast the directions and I held my hands up to give the energy a push with her, like we had come to do in circle. Once everything is in place, I open the box that AFM is in, as we planned. I’m immediately hit with a face full of death energy and queasily wonder if (as usual) I had bitten off more than I could chew. When I finally have the orb out, I stared at it dumbly for a long moment. The thoughts came so fast. First, I’m holding AFM in my hands. Then, she’s an entire galaxy now and she’s so beautiful. AF was crying on the couch and I slowly and gently placed the orb into her hands, curling her fingers over the orb, my hands over hers. I don’t understand, she said. It was so primal, so simple and exactly how I felt every time someone I loved died. I put my hands on her feet and gently reminded her to grow her roots into the ground. OB sat on the other side of her, crying with her. When she was ready, she opened the circle and we ate soup and sat outside with a fire and thumbed through Betty Crocker recipes and talked, mostly about music. We played Rumors on repeat, one of AFM’s favorites.
I thought about the night before, how I had cried in bed when kind friends asked me to tell me about Friend. The world felt smaller and even more uncertain without her in it. I thought about how my dad was only 48 when he passed which seemed like a full life at eighteen, much less so at forty myself now. It’s been seven years now since my uncle passed. Passing, passing, passing.
Finally, I said simply, “I’m sad. I miss her. But being here with you helps. I know you’re sad about Great Grandpa. It’s okay to be sad and miss people we’ve lost.”
“Okay,” he said. He says this a lot, mostly when I give homilies. But I can tell how hard he’s listening.
“Sometimes, it helps us to feel less sad to remember the people we loved. We can do this by lighting a candle, putting out an apple, maybe a cookie if Great Grandpa liked cookies, some fresh water, some flowers. It reminds them that we’re still thinking about them. Do you want to do that?”
He nods. “Okay.”
“When we’re done with school, we’ll do that. And we’ll talk about the things we liked about Great Grandpa. Tomorrow, we’ll take the things we put out for him to the lake and put them there for the animals to have with Great Grandpa. Okay?”
And we do.
Still, every thing that we believed in was worth it
And even uncertainty, it has a purpose however imperfectly
I’ll never forget your face
Remember when the lights dim down
It’s only the dark
End is just the start
(The end is just the start)