Tuesday, July 04, 2006

6. “Tell her NOW”

Mario and I went to dinner at some friends’ recently. This couple had just gotten back from Italy, and oh, the meal was fantastic: an ambrosial fresh tomato soup with ricotta and basil, al dente pasta with wild mushrooms and olive oil, arugula salad, a mixed grill, grape compote on baked ricotta, and more. With, of course, wines to match.

Somehow the conversation turned in such a way that he was relating a story and she was rolling her eyes. Seriously rolling her eyes. I wasn’t quite sure what had happened, but in retrospect I wanted to sit them both down like little children and say to them: “Do you not appreciate what you have? Why are you being careless with your most cherished companion? You must never take him or her for granted.” And to the eye-roller: “Tell him NOW how much you love him.”

But this is the chasm. It is impossible to understand how death changes your life, and changes your appreciation of a life, until it happens to someone you love. Mario and I are not perfect together. But our appreciation for one another runs deep. When our differences grate upon each other, we find a way to laugh and move through the moment. We have had some disagreements. But they flare like sheet lightning, and then we find our center again.

I do not mean that to sound boastful or prideful, like we are so perfect. We’re not. Let me share a little more of my back story to give this context.

When Helena’s father decided that he did not love me (the beginning of the end of what I thought was the “forever” marriage), it was the worst love disappointment I had been through to that point. At times, I wished out loud that her father would die so I could extinguish my irrational hope for reconciliation.

After Gregory died, I understood how foolish and shallow that wish was. Death carries with it a finality that most of us are unprepared for. Those songs that talk about loving forever, or loving till you die – you hear them in a completely different way once you actually lose someone.

Maybe the physical, earth relationship ends with death. But the love? The love feels eternal, bridging the gap between life and death.

After Gregory died, we had a memorial service, which I helped to plan. His family was so far out of touch with who he was that when I suggested the need for this, they said, “Who will come? Who will care?”

Well, the people came. They were his people. And my people. And they filled the chapel. Helena’s father came with Helena. I sat between one of Gregory’s lifelong friends and one of my dearest friends, a woman who was a reluctant psychic. By that, I mean B.A. (short for Beatrice Ann) found herself channeling and receiving information quite unbecoming her station as the wife of an oil industry executive.

So we are sitting at this memorial service for Gregory, and it’s a silent, meditative period while soft music is playing. B.A. leans toward me and says, “He says to tell you he loves you, that death doesn’t change that.” She adds, leaning closer: “He says to tell you NOW.” B.A., who had never met Gregory, explained later that she had resisted telling me because it seemed inappropriate to the moment. But Gregory had insisted.

Of course, you can never prove this kind of “communication.” But in the arc of emotion that made up the service, I felt that she was getting something. The urgency rang true.

For all the loss I felt in the suddenness of his death, there was nothing left unsaid between us. Every day that Gregory was in my life, I let him know how precious he was to me. He did the same. That brought me a small measure of comfort.

I wanted to look at the couple who prepared the wonderful dinner for Mario and me and say, “Stop it! Stop it, both of you. Don’t you see what you have together? Appreciate what you have! Tell each other NOW, and get past the petty, superficial static. Appreciate that this could all change in a heartbeat.”

One skipped heartbeat. Leading to another skipped heartbeat…. I don’t know that I’ll ever have the guts to say that to our friends. But Mario and I are clear on the concept of appreciating one another here and now. There’s got to be an easier way to learn this.

Photographs by Ansel Adams

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