Remembering a friend
A friend died today.
Many of you probably knew of him, heard of him, and if not, because you aren’t from the town where I live where he had been well-known, I’m certain you would have loved him, too, if you had had the chance to spend any time with him. He was that kind of guy.
There will be remembrances and tributes over the coming days. Newspaper and media stories, and private conversations tinged with laughter and tears. There will be old friends and colleagues, closer to him than I had been, who will cry through their tales of memory. And his family, oh, his family, will be overwhelmed by the bitter mix of sorrow and gratitude that only death gives us.
It may seem odd that I have not mentioned his name. For how does one write about the death of friend or colleague and not reveal his name? There will be others who will offer better memorials than I would, or could, and for those who are close to me or had been nearer to him will surely know of the man about whom I write. So, I will leave those better words to the ones who knew him best. They will say his name and tell their stories with far more depth and grace.
My friend’s death has overwhelmed my senses and emotions. It’s still raw. But in the early hours of personal grief, what has emerged is something so stunningly simple and yet strikingly profound. On this morning of my friend’s death, I read a blog post from an author who had written about an ancient text from the Middle Ages. Within that text is a Latin phrase, Momento mori, which means “Remember you must die.” It may seem bleak and depressing, but instead I see these words as a manifesto for life. The text in which the phrase is found is Ars Moriendi—translated as The Art of Dying—an “art” that reminds us that to die well we must first live well, that a good death requires a good life.
And I think of my friend.
Even after a long, hard, searingly frightening illness, even after the heartbreak of knowing that the mountain he had to climb was getting unimaginably steeper, and even after all the crushing, debilitating pain, I know that my friend’s death was a good one. It was good because he had lived a good life. He lived well. So, very, very well. He lived with joy and exuberance. Few embraced the beauty of what life had to give. Even when he may have been troubled with what we all struggle with deep inside, he reminded us that “it was good to be alive,” every single day. He said it out loud. His love of music and its unending power ran through his veins. He could quote Dylan Thomas and Mick Jagger in the same breath, and in the next breath tell you why those words were reasons for living.
Yes, my friend died today. He didn’t want to go. And it will be painful for many for a very long time. But I know if I could ask him if he believed he lived a good enough life to be given a good death, he’d say he certainly did.
It just wasn’t long enough.