The so-called little one. I can hear the anguish in his voice a thousand miles away through the one word text message. It’s a terrible thing to lose a hero, especially when they’re so young. Or we are. Or ever, really.
Whether that hero is an icon or a parent, a son or a daughter. We ground our hopes in their vitality and curiosity and tenacity, and through them find our own. But what to do when they are gone?
Kobe died in a helicopter crash.
We feel the loss keenly, the way it reverberates on the heartstrings of our own losses.
Kobe was 41; my husband was 41 when he died.
He died on January 26th; my dear father-in-law died on the same date a few years ago.
His daughter, too; it’s impossibly sad.
I think about a blue-sky day, not long ago. I was out walking my dog when I saw my neighbor walking their dog. A neighbor, and also a friend. Our families have coordinated carpool, celebrated graduations and bar mitzvahs, shared meals and concert tickets.
I cross the street to greet him, and he looks gaunt and pale, almost gray. My stomach clenches, prepared – not prepared, braced – for imminent bad news. I can almost hear the words “I have cancer” before he says them, but what he says is unimaginable. “My son is dead,” and suddenly I understand that this is not a dad with a terminal illness, it is a father in grief, in shock. There are not enough words for this kind of pain. His son was traveling abroad; he was supposed to return home to begin his junior year in college. Catastrophe is not how the story was supposed to go.
There is no way to make sense of this. I have so many questions I do not ask. It won’t make any difference; no answer will bring the boy back.
I have no words. There are no words. Only palpable pain and silence.
I do not want to offer the platitudes I myself had been served. But I probably offer up different ones. Maybe not. I can only hope.
I give him a hug.
“I have no words,” I say.
“There are no words,” he says. And we look at each other for a long moment, until his dog wags her tail and puts her paws up for attention. He smiles wanly, and says “What is there left to do but walk the dog?”
Indeed. There is nothing to say or do, only that I am glad that he told me himself. There is something about the communal breaking of hearts that softens the suffering, if only slightly. And the walking of dogs.
Almost immediately I think of an overcast day a few months earlier, when I met up with a friend whose teenaged son had fallen to his death in a crazy, tragic accident. As I held her she sobbed and said, “How can people walk their dogs?”
Indeed. Normalcy has no place in a world that has been tilted off its axis by so great a loss.
Take care of yourselves, Tuesday people. Walk the dog. Or not.
Inhale, exhale, repeat.
Notice where it hurts.
Shoot baskets until your arms ache.
Shout, cry or talk. Or don’t.
Write. Write a song. Or a poem. Or gibberish. It all counts.
Pray. Or not. Tell God to take Her own flying leap.
Sit and stare vacantly at silent green stems for however long it takes the daffodils to open.
Feed yourself with something good and spicy or sweet and life sustaining. Or both. You are here. You are loved.
Today begins again the healing process. I leash up the dog, who is an enthusiastic partner for the journey, and we spend an hour moving along in companionable silence. We stop to smell the paperwhites, now open, that we’ve been watching for a week. As we are nearing home, I see a woman up ahead on the road. I’ve only seen her once before — two miles ago when our paths met for a short stretch. She smiles broadly as we cross paths again. “Still going!” she says.
I smile in return, “Yes, we are!”
Yes we are. Still going.
Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. You’re still going.
Sometimes people ask me what I’m reading these days. Here you go:
Ask Again, Yes, by Mary Beth Keane
From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily, and Finding Home, by Tembi Locke (If possible, and especially if you aren’t fluent in Italian, I recommend listening to the audio version, read by the author herself.)