The receiving line for the widow stretched from the opening foyer of the Long Beach Yacht Club, up the stairs and into the opening section of the main gathering room. I estimate there were close to 300 people in various attitudes of coming and going when I arrived at 11:45 on a Monday. There was little diminishment when I left ninety minutes later. I knew only half a dozen of those who were there when I was there, and even they were friends I made through my activities in several companies and community and social organizations. The variety of age and background of the attendees spoke to this man’s eclectic life.
I couldn’t believe, as I listened to the slide presentation his friends and family had compiled, how close our lives paralleled: dentist, Soccer Coach, Sailor, wine aficionado, gourmet cook, and of retirement age, although neither of us chose to very effectively do that. The slide show depicted events that carried us through about 50 years of togetherness between him and his wife , family and friends.
I was reminded of a recent show on NPR where Susan Stamberginterviewed Joan Didion whose book, BlueNights chronicled the lingering passing of her 39 year-old daughter Quintana Roo Dunne. Although I had not read the book or its predecessor The Year of Magical Thinking, my wife had read both and discussed with her book group and me Blue Nights. What tied the two books together and what made the interview memorable, was the fact that Ms. Stamberg shared the common theme of the books: the passing of a loved one. Ms. Stamberg lost her husband and, although his passing was not as unexpected nor as sudden as that of John Dunne, it did provide a framework for the closing interview question, “What do you say when people say to you ‘At least you have the memories’?”
“I have never really come up with an answer.” was her response and there was a long moment of silence when the listener could almost see the two minds reflecting on the bittersweet fact of memories we carry of a loved one. Memories that remind us of what we shared, but also remind us that there will never again be the smell of him or her, or the joy of sharing a thought or impression, or the construction of a “new” memory.
It took me more than a year to cope with the death of my father, which happened when I was thirty-four and I still find my mother alive in my thoughts, although she passed away almost twenty years ago. Some memory would and does pop into my head. I can taste the food, or smell the kitchen odors, or see a scene where what I am doing with my grandson or child was done to and with me by my father.
I find myself smiling…or crying…for no explainable reason. And I find myself thinking, what am I building that will provide memories for those I love when I am gone?
I think I may read the books.
I promise a lighter mood on my nest blog as I plan to share a Discovery Channel presentation of How Beer Saved the World. If you missed the show I can catch you up.