Last year while I was back in New York a very good friend died and I’ve been struggling with his death ever since. It was both unexpected and predictable as he was struggling with a long term illness. As we age the people around us begin to leave us. Usually at first it’s a relative, a grandparent or uncle. As we reach our teens and twenties a few of us will be shocked by the death of someone our own age or a parent. As we get to our thirties and beyond the actuarial tables only become more demanding as we start to see co-workers, friends and family members pass away.
For me I’ve had three close friends who have died before their 50th birthday and before I reached my 40th. The reasons were as varied as the lives they led. Some knew what was coming and prepared themselves; others had no warning.
This latest death was the most difficult for me because he was the closest of them all. For twenty years, more than half my life and certainly all of my adult life, he was there like an older brother and mentor. The simple idea that there was someone who I could both call on and count on was a revelation to my seventeen year-old self. As we grew older we actually grew closer, another revelation though like so many others in his life I always felt he kept some part of himself hidden. That part I would learn in the last years of his life was his disease.
But even with that remove we shared a great deal. I left and traveled and lived abroad but he was, above all others, the person I stayed closest to despite our lack of physical proximity.
And now he’s gone.
Every day I find myself wanting to share something strange or interesting I discovered online. Every week I think of the trips that we planned but never got to take together, his disease a constant impediment. Every month I find myself wondering what more I could have done to help him (the answer is always the same: nothing).
And so I find myself wandering through life knowing that his laughter and wisdom is forever beyond me and I find that a difficult future to reconcile myself to.
For me death always begs the question: are you really living your life? We live in the belief that our time, while not infinite, extends well beyond the horizon we can now observe. But my growing experience and loss tells me that is far from true.
So I check myself and ask if I’m happy. Am I doing what I find rewarding? If I died tomorrow would I have regrets?
Of course. For me it’s less about what I have not done but more about what I have yet to do. I’m largely lived life on my own terms and been rewarded, if not financially then certainly emotionally. Every day I wake up and know how lucky I’ve been and how fortunate I am.
But a new chapter will start in my life soon and for the first time as an adult my path is unclear. And my lighthouse has been obscured by the fog of death. But I must continue to blunder through, trying in vain to remember the directions I’ve been given and recall the destination.
But for all that I have what death cannot rob me of until its steals away my own breath. I have the years and the memories and the way his life shaped my own.