Today, I am thinking of my first loss. Well, perhaps there was a hamster or three that preceded this loss yet, today I remember Calvin. I was just a girl of eleven. The same vulnerable and volatile age as my daughter now. He was my neighbor, a best friend and perhaps even my first crush. I don't reliably remember the sequence of his illness. I think that is a gift of youth. He was just a fun kid.
Slowly (and painfully) he withered from the inside out. My mother would not allow me to go to his service. The entire school was bused to the beach, except for me. Even my brother got to go. Was this her form of protection? I know she wanted to shelter me from the pain and grief, yet how could she? I remember thinking "why won't she let me go"? Was this some form of hidden, disguised, unintentional sexism at work? My brother, though two years older was surely not as mature as I and yet he could go? Was a girl just too weak to confront the finality of death? And so his death was never final for me. It lingered painfully, awkwardly casting a shadow (forever perhaps) over the gangly young adult I was becoming. I know my mother's intentions were good, but I felt extreme guilt and embarrassment to not have been there to say good bye on the sands of that frigid ocean. Guilt and embarrassment that I was not there to console his sister, even younger than me, who I adored.
As a parent now, I can't imagine what his solo father was going through. I can't imagine all that comes to fill the loss of a child. Just yesterday his father left a comment on facebook that took me right back to that time. He was commenting on a post about an upcoming lecture and he was stating his desire to be able to be present in the back of the room. "i remember sitting in the back corner of a room once when a young girl came and held my hand when I needed just that... look at her now". Through the fog of time I can't remember this exact moment as well as he, but I picture him in his stalwart mother's living-room, with her high chroma, plush carpet (was it blue or green? Funny that I can't clearly remember that detail). I picture him limp, and curled over, stuffing gone. Is it arrogant to be proud of what must have been my natural reaction - to go hold his hand, to just be with him? To try to will some of the grief to pass through our hands, to bear some of that weight for him. Calvin's life and death has surely had an indelible impact on who I am today. I don't think I would be as empathetic to others if I had not witnessed his families suffering during his illness and through the years that followed.
I feel like it would be nice of me to end this on a positive note. To wrap things up neat and tidy. To say something meaningful about death but really I can't find the words. I am literally at a loss. So much loss...
It makes me happy to think of Calvin. It makes me remember what eleven was. And no matter how far life can take us from our past and the people of our past, it is good to remember and honor them as they were.
This painting was done a morning shortly after my dear dog Zombie passed. It was a quiet morning and as the snow hushed these woods, it was as if nature was taking a moment of silence for my pup. His death has opened me up raw. I would apologize for that rawness and intensity, except that I'm not sorry. I am grateful for being shaken into remembering and cherishing and truly feeling the impact of all those I have loved.
Eulogy, oil on acm panel, 20" x 16", 2016