Wednesday, October 17, 2012

How to honor the dead

I've been following this blog.  WARNING! DO NOT CLICK LINK if you are not in the right frame of mind to read about a five year old with Cancer.  Ty Louis Campbell was born 6 days after our Jake was born.  He lived in another state. We've never met him, and I've only been reading his family's blog for less than 2 weeks. He's been sick with a brain tumor for 2 years.  His family nicknamed him "Super Ty".  And today, he died.

October 17th...

Fifteen years ago today, one of my kindred spirits died.  We were 24 years old when John died.  I've known and loved him since my senior year in HS; and we spent some intense "coming of age" time  in those tender "late teenage/ early 20's" years together...  He's been dead more than twice as long as I knew him as a living soul, but I'd be a liar if I told you I wasn't all messed up about it today.  I think about John every day, but I spent a lot of today beating myself up, and just being sad.  It's just fucking sad that he had to STOP while the rest of us had to keep going and fill the place in the garden where he was growing up near us.

Today, I'm 39 and 1/3 years old and the promise of FORTY looms over me like a laughing ogre.   I really buy into that stuff about people are only as old as we feel or act; but truth be told-

I'm feeling old.

October 17th usually does that to me.  And Stories of kids dying has a similar effect. But it's not just psychological:

My body is creaking... My gray hair is growing in, my abdomen is full and flabby.  My memory is showing signs of fragility.  I've spent a lot of exhausting effort- keeping survivor's guilt at bay, trying to be sure I did a little more than I might have otherwise in the name of he-who-is-no-longer-with-us.  (I'm not sure I've succeeded.)

I spent the early years after John's accident working hard to be sure I did not seal off my heart.  And I still do a lot of meditating on settling into and celebrating the hardships and sometimes disappointments associated with "growing up" and aging.

Feeling the weight and simultaneous levity of every birthday is intentional.  I will not lie about my age.  I will not regret this ticking off of the years.  "I've earned these gray hairs," I like to quip.  And "Not everyone gets to be this age," I repeat at least annually.

John B. Klimaszewski was about as brimming with life as a body could be.  He was about as energetic and full of possibility as any of us has a chance of being.  He was completely human, prone to making mistakes of all sizes.  But with a smile and compassion and generous spirit that makes you want to whimper about only the good dying young.  To be fair, alcohol seems to also play a role in many pre-mature deaths.  But I digress...  I use his full name here because he died in 1997, before Facebook, before Google, before the internet was useful or organized.

If you die when you're a child, or even a young man- how can all that potential be lost???  What happens to it?  What happens to all that people wished for you?!?

If you die before Facebook or Twitter, or even Google existed, did you exist at all? Where is the public record.  Newspapers and stacks of town hall documents are not being transferred to the internet, they are crumbling apart in soon to be extinct metal filing cabinets.

There is the philosophical and there is the emotional.

My heart has broken right open for Super Ty, for his parents and brother... Their story has effected me profoundly.  What will they do now?  How will they handle their grief?  Will they be okay?  My heart still aches for John.  All these years later- what I wouldn't give to be retweeting his hilarious tweets and harassing him via text right now... Comparing notes and stories about our children.

I've been shy about putting posts up about John on this blog- not because there's a huge volume of things I want to write about him, necessarily, but  because it somehow doesn't seem to be "MY" story to tell anymore.  My story contains a different cast of characters.  And I'm not sure whose permission to ask to keep telling John's story (or at least the part of his story that I am privy to).

But I guess at this late stage in the game, I'm happy to have that conversation/debate if someone comes out of the woodwork and says I can't talk about him.  I am desperate for stories about him to be told.  No matter what you believe related to an after life, it seems to me that you can only exist here- in the world- if there is a shared understanding of you- If you stay alive in the memories of others.  If the stories about you are told.

I went into my basement... to look for pictures... of him... And found the most amazing thing- a love letter from my wife.  It was written just after we had first fallen for each other.  Her love: sweet and exuberant and described to me in generous, flowery, metaphorical detail; in her own lovely handwriting.
- Way before we imagined how children would enrich our life and exhaust us and deepen our love for each other.
- Way before we could comprehend the hard work required of us by marriage.
- Way before we learned to rely on each other's strengths and encouragement.

I think it's okay to spend a bit of time wallowing in grief as long as you try not to get lost in it.  I think the most important thing we can do for our dead is to acknowledge them, bring them with us, (sometimes slap their pictures up on the internet and tell a few stories about them) while we carrythefuckon... 

RIP Super Ty
RIP Johnny K

I love you Jake and Milo.
I love you, Katy


Adam Hirsch said...

Neil Gaiman's beautiful, elegaic "Sandman" series introduced the personification of Dream, as well as his sister, Death. Early on, as she collected a baby in the crib, the baby asks her: "Is that all I get?" To which she replied, "You get what anybody gets. You get a lifetime."

Celeste said...

Ahhh....your posts always get to me. Usually tears are involved. Thanks for sharing, Tracy.

Tracy said...

I LOVE both of these comments!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for talking about John. I heart ached for you when I heard the horrible news. We were early childhood friends and although we drifted apart as the years went by It always felt good to exchange a smile and a high five in the hallways of CHSin passing. I can still google satellite view the sandbox outside Highland School kindergarden area (the round one connected to the building) and see us playing with his Buzzuto's truck in the sand. I still remember playing at his house as a kid and seeing the honey operation they had set up, extremely vivid to this day. John was an incredible person and is well remembered by me, always will be.