Monday, September 16, 2013

Closing Time: Bill

When Bill died it was a surprise.

He became the first of us to go, and he was quite young. At least so it seemed. He was a year or two younger than I was. And I was young, wasn’t I?

But he died, nonetheless.

The list of missing parts consisting of the fingers and the foot and, no doubt, myriad less obvious components had turned out to include key aspects of a healthy heart.

He died in his doctor’s office on a day he had gone in for a routine checkup.

An advantage of being the first to die – assuming one has liked crowds, and assuming that one has any personal consciousness and personal connection with the living after one’s death, and assuming that one has been well liked – is that there will be a lot of people who will come to one’s funeral.

Bill was extremely well liked.

He had an overflow crowd at his funeral.

There were a great many of us in the crowd who were his fraternity brothers, and we all knew and liked him very well.

He had been, among other things, president of the fraternity.

So there was a large crowd, many of them fraternity brothers who knew him well, at Bill’s memorial service.

The whole concept of a “memorial” instead of a “funeral” had evolved from the desire to “celebrate” the life that had passed, and not to “mourn” its passing.

Somehow, in the case of Bill’s formal departure, that concept had gotten high-jacked right after the word “memorial” had been employed rather than “funeral”.

At a real “memorial” the attendees are asked to recount their thoughts, memories and fond stories of the recently departed. The result of those real memorials is usually fabric woven from myth and woven from fact effortlessly blended by the ebb and flow of the thoughts, memories and emotions of the attendees of the memorial.

That fabric usually long outlasts the memorial gathering itself.

That fabric, that body of myth and fact, then becomes a legacy that keeps the departed alive in the hearts of all those who were present and contributed to its creation.

It becomes part of a larger story – a story that results from the continually added threads of other memorials - to be recounted around dinner tables and campfires until all those who were present, and all those who have told the ever expanding tale, have joined the departed by departing themselves.

That type of memorial was denied to Bill.

For some reason someone in Bill’s family decided to have a minister, who had never met Bill, do the remembering.

It was painful to the point of being appalling.

I felt like Doctor Strangelove grabbing my hand to keep it from going up and demanding to speak about this person with whom I had spent so much time. I wanted to tell everybody about Bill’s shooting ability, about all the other things he could do that he ought not to have been able to do. I wanted to tell them about the story he had told me about the limbless person who had been his first friend. I wanted to just let them know that we had been blessed with the presence for a time of a special form of creature.

But all we got was irrelevant bullshit.

I rode to a small post-memorial event at Tom and Betsy’s with Tom.

I had never cried in front of a friend before. But as the words, “Bill deserved better” exited my mouth they were followed by those awful heaving sobs that I thought I had left behind years before.

Maybe I was making up for my emotional paralysis when Blitz had died.

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