I’m not the guy to talk to dead people. Even when I serve grieving families, I flinch when they start addressing the departed as if they are there. As I sit or stand in that setting, I say in my head that they are there but that the opportunity before us is to speak first to those who are physically present.
I write that because I need to define this post as an exercise in theological and personal stretching. It may just be altogether imaginative. After all, nothing about my framework thinks that you read my blog. I’m writing as if you’re reading. I wish you were.
Nonetheless, I’m looking at the next days. One of them includes your funeral and your burial and words I’m to say over you as a eulogist. I’m not looking forward to that day. It’s ahead of me, but I’m not looking forward to it.
Because it means what it always means in situations like this: it means goodbye. I have never been good at goodbye. I leave people’s houses without saying it. I simply walk out. I figure, they’ll realize I’m gone. I make little deals out of such departures. But your goodbye is different. This funeral is not like the others I’ve been to. And I’ve been to so many. I’ve stood at dozens of caskets, dressed in my uniform, and walked people through those dismal moments that are rushing up in my head and keeping me up late at night and making me search through my memory like a catalog so I don’t forget some important memory, some something you said. I already feel crippled by shock, sad that I can’t remember every single thing.
I tell myself to sleep and that, like mama told me on the phone Friday, I need to rest. I tell myself to hope. I tell myself all these good things people have written in emails to me or on a text message. I remember the people who have left me voice mail messages. I smile, genuinely thankful.
And then I tell myself to rejoice that your suffering is over. That you aren’t struggling to stand up and keep your balance or fighting with a nurse because you’ve lost something fundamental to you, independence. I tell myself that you won’t have some strange, repetitive flash of a memory that I can’t understand because I wasn’t there to live through it with you. I tell myself that you are resting in an essential way, that you are experiencing something splendid, if my faith is true, even if I cannot give adequate justice to what that life is now.
I tell these things to myself and some hole still persists. Dark and wide, the gap takes my feet into it, and I feel like I’m slipping again. I hear you smiling, hear you because of the lift in your voice when you really smiled; it was a personal song to something you laughed at. It’s a song I loved. I keep thinking about your nose and unshaven face and how at certain moments in my life, I can really see you in my mirror. How you shaved twice a week after you retired and always on Saturday night before church on Sunday. I tell myself that Magic Shave on shelves in Walgreens will never look the same to me because you used Magic Shave.
I won’t write you these letters regularly. And when I do, I’ll put them in my moleskin. But I’m writing this one to get started, to look ahead but not exactly forward, to find some courage to train my head and heart for the other words I have to say; these are some of the ones that may not make it to the eulogy. That assignment is clear enough for me. It’s not my forum to express these things; not exactly anyway. I won’t have enough time to write those words well; I’ll stick to that message which is at my core, and it will be the proclamation of the day.
But this is the start of the rambling that comes when the man I love has died. This is scattered set of sayings I wish I could say to you, even though I’ve said them to you. This is my first letter to repeat the things I hope and trust you know.