My nana was a life lived, and so I once wrote about her too. “The constancy with which she nurtured people was a quality that we all took for granted . . . . If only Nana had been able to share with us her overwhelming and unspoken need to be loved, perhaps we could have given to her as much as we received.”
Your mantra keeps morphing for me. Now that I have poured out the things that had an expiry date on them, my version of your story becomes a liquid speak. You asked to be loved, in the ways that felt right to ask of those around you. Some of us had jobs. Others, you just wanted to Be. And you know . . . I don’t think the chapter of your wake has been written yet. Not by me.
I’ve had moments where I wish I had stood (right) beside you, as your village gathered and spoke to you. Fleeting worry that you needed support, to receive. But I know it was right to let you go it alone, to stand back and watch you take it all in.
Much like grief, I think saying good bye is highly individualized. Our stories intersected with yours, and the meaning we placed on your impending absence – the place where we each sat, just right in that moment – is what we gave to you. You got . . . us.
“But this is real as you can get it, where we can actually get in and hug and ask a question and . . . ” you told the reporter. Funerals are for those who remain. Wakes are for those who celebrate. But living wakes . . . One had better take a deep breath because there is just no telling what will be released, in that truthful last gathering. I keep trying to think of the right descriptor for your facial expression that day. “Yes,” it said, “Here you all are.”
The story I have been telling is of a man who was just on the cusp of realizing his true self, and was forced by disease to step backwards into who he had been. But that is not true, is it? You stepped firmly past my grandmother; you told us how you needed to be loved. And it was more than you could have imagined, because you brought it into being.
For those of us who grieve you, what is left in our hands might be surprising or uncomfortable. New. But these stories belong to us, and are not left by you. I know I wished to see you deeply value yourself and what you offered the world. It’s why I continue to raise your story high, through my lens. But in looking, I see that my definitions of self and other are simply mine. Yours – your self and other – became just what they needed to be, so that you could make your choices and say your good byes.
At my nana’s funeral I heard new stories that deeply enriched the ones I already carried. I knew what she had given to me, but to hear what she gave others – in their own words – secret gems were revealed. As I wrote about her later, “my grandmother ultimately allowed us to be who we were, rather than what she may have wanted us to be.”
I’m left thinking about my job, that thing I feel I have shed but still speaks. Stepping up means stepping down, hey? There was no letting be, in what I worked to do. So now is it’s time, the being. My being. Let all the incongruities and messiness – the incompleteness and falterings – let them go. I can pick up my definitions again, as my job is . . . Well? Done.