When the woman in the dark suit asked if anyone wanted to speak, I did not go up. I felt I hadn’t known T as an adult well enough. I didn't have any funny anecdotes. Or perfectly preserved memories. Seven years my junior and my cousin, our family spent many a Christmas and Thanksgiving with his family. We’d hung spoons from our noses at the kids’ tables. We’d fidgeted among the kids as we all waited for his father to spool the super 8 film of “The Night Before Christmas” through the projector every December 24th. We’d run through the grass together on humid summer midwestern nights.
And so he was important to me in his own right.
And I loved his family — his mom and dad and two sisters — and him, despite the separate worlds adulthood had taken us. Now he lay in the dark wood coffin at the top of the room, frozen in forever at 48.
But I did not go up when the open call was made. Instead, I thought of the moment my sister had called a few days before to tell me he had died suddenly of heart attack.
What?! The response was immediate and short. It was a small word for a full and huge question that asked for an answer bigger than the universe could deliver because the answer was whole universe itself.
What?! I said again. I walked down the hall with my sister’s voice in my ear, and suddenly felt myself pushing up against a gray wall that was like a solid but synthetic fog in front of me. My face leaned into and stretched it across my lips, my nose, my eyes . What was beyond? Nothing? I didn't know. Yet I was familiar with it.
I had seen it before, when the wheels fell off early on in therapy. Talking to a paid ear, it had appeared in front of me like a sheet, not against me (as it was now with my whole being pushing into it, trying to reach through it). As quickly as it appeared to me in the office, it was gone. But the office not the same as before. It was more alive and vibrant and all the sounds of it made a silence that was full of more life than ever before.
I thought of it again after I’d help lay the casket down in the cold of the graveyard with six others and the mother of his daughter stepped up and read from The Lord of the Rings:
PIPPIN: I didn't think it would end this way.
GANDALF: End? No, the journey doesn't end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.
PIPPIN: What? Gandalf? See what?
GANDALF: White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.
PIPPIN: Well, that isn't so bad.
GANDALF: No. No, it isn't
Shivering, it struck me that I didn’t need to wait for the grey rain-curtain to roll back. That I could peel it back at any time. The far green country is always here and now if you are willing.
In flash, I was glad I was there with everyone in the cold, listening with everything I have to go home and smile at my kids and kiss my wife furiously.