This is not a post about All Saints or what in Portugal gets called “Dia dos Fieis” — day of the faithful — when everyone, of any belief or none seemingly, makes a bee line for the cemetery and lights candles and cleans graves and talks about those who lie there, who left, long gone.
My first memories of it were of going to the children’s cemetery to put candles on the grave of the cousin, my age, whom I don’t remember at all, who died at 3 in what appears (according to databases) to have been a small pox epidemic. She was the strong one of the two of us. I don’t remember but for years, before I caught a reference to what she died of, I thought she’d died because I refused to share my bread with her, at tea at my maternal grandparents.
Anyway, perhaps the way I’ve been feeling lately tracks back to the fact that time is approaching, and like things trained in from very early, my mind turns to those who have died and whom I miss.
Lately too there seems to be a spate of deaths among friends and friends of friends. And one of our pets is edging that way and I’m daily weighing the decision.
Greebo too is showing is age, so it might not be long…
I’m old enough that I appreciate being alive. Even through the daily aches and pains. Perhaps I got to this point earlier because I never expected to live very long.
Recently death has been rounding near, becoming familiar, shadowing me on lonely morning walks, pausing for a reminiscence when the day is foggy.
I feel as if it’s a strangely dressed man, on a city street, trying to get to the point that it can touch me, that I won’t fight back.
I’m fifty six and fast approaching the point at which I have as many loved ones and friends on the other side as on this.
One expects, of course, to lose grandparents, and I probably shouldn’t complain, or not too hard. But I do miss Grandma. This time of year, particularly, I miss her bustling around the kitchen, cleaning up the yard. And I’d give years of life for one more chance to open the gate that no longer exists and take the path around the side yard, around grandad’s workshop, and into the always open kitchen door, to have tea with her one more time. I’d tell her about her great grandsons, both of which at times remind me so much of her, and how things turned out for me. And how much I miss her.
I’m sure she knows all of this, mind you. Not only because someone like grandma couldn’t simply disappear, but because I have reason to believe she visited me once, at a critical point, some years after her death. I might have talked about it before. I don’t intend to do so now. I’ll simply say that yes, it could be an hallucination (I was near death at that moment) and maybe it was, but in my mind and heart I KNOW what I experienced.
But I’d like to sit and have tea — with lemon — and talk it over, just once more.
Then there is our friend Alan, gone for years now. His death hurt more, because to an extent it took part of our youth with him.
I never thought of thirty something year olds (much less 50) as young, but we met Alan when we were all thirty. Alan and his wife were, for years, our best friends in the worlds, our kids brought up as cousins. Holidays and celebrations were at one house or the other, and we had down to habit who cooked what so there was no need to coordinate. And we went to cheap dollar movies together, broke into publication together, laughed and talked and shared most of everything for fifteen years.
He was diagnosed with cancer the year older son finished his freshman year. We were visiting him at his summer internship when we got the call and I thought “I’m not ready to let go.”
I still wasn’t ready five years later. But I had to let go, anyway. And around this time of year, I miss him and he’s much on my mind. The other day husband said “As Alan would say” and we both laughed.
He told us when we met again, he’d take us out for ice-cream because there are no carbs in heaven. That was my last talk with him. I plan to hold him to it.
This week, I had word of the death of a guy who MIGHT have been my first fan, who did everything he could to promote me through my first three? four years with Baen. Some of you will remember John Wagner from the bar.
He was very ill and was looking after his handicapped daughter, and at some point he stopped talking to me, apparently because he feared burdening me.
But I remember the conversations we had, and the silliness in the bar, and the long talks we had on AIM which were far more serious.
I know in the last few years he’s been hurting, physically, mentally, emotionally, and that his death was probably a release. But I can’t but lament his passing and say I hope there is another time we can meet.
There are others. I still miss Jerry, still find it weird I can’t simply email him to discuss something.
There was a fan, Ray Carter, I met briefly online, while my life was going insane, and who in a month became a close friend… and then died but will never be forgotten.
Then there are pets. No, it’s not a different order. Well, it is, but some of them have kept me sane and loved more than humans. I don’t know how else to explain it.
We’ve now lost five. And it gets harder every time. And Euclid-cat is going that way. We had to confine him (in a three floor cat condo, but confined, nonethless because… well, our living room has half-carpet, and half-killzeed floor, and the rest of the house was getting the same way. He simply doesn’t remember, or doesn’t care.
But he’s a cat who loves pets and contact. We used to call him a pet slut, because he’d do anything to be petted.
He took his confinement okay for a long time. But this week has been hard. He cries constantly and begs me for pets, and I can’t do that AND work. I take him out and love him for an hour or two at night, but he wants more, and it’s worrying me. I don’t want him unhappy. On the other than, he’s not in unbearable pain, which is our decision point. And perhaps in a way I’m balking the decision because losing Miranda hurt so much.
Meanwhile Greebo, who is a cat, yes, but is MY dog, always at my heels, the guardian of my writing time, has been diagnosed with hypothyroidism. This is not a death sentence. We will treat. But it means our time together has drawn down to one-to-three years, from previous experience. And he’s one of the cats who, like Pixie of blessed memory, or Miranda, or before them Petronius the Arbiter are so close to my heart, they’ll take most of it when they go (not that I didn’t love the other cats. Some are just closer.)
This all came to mind when I read Dave’s farewell to his dog.
And this brought another thing much on my mind, because I have aging parents, and my brother and the cousin who was raised with us aren’t exactly spring chickens anymore: distance is a kind of death.
This came to mind because when I first “met” Dave Freer on line, Wednesday and Pugsley (her brother) were just puppies. I was regaled with tales of their exploits and sort of knew them through him.
Like John Wagner, for a long time Dave Freer was someone I only knew online. And yet, I grew to love him as a brother. I’ve met him now twice, and would like to see him again in the flesh before one of us leaves.
Thing is… we’re both getting older, the distance and travel is almost insurmountable, both physically and monetarily.
Just as with my parents, every time I see them, might be the last. Distance curtails your remaining time. Makes people almost like the dead in your memory. And makes your time with them very short, very precious.
I am not naturally — which will shock everyone who reads the soon-to-be-out short novel Deep Pink — a person of faith. I’m one of those who find it hard to believe without seeing.
But I want very much to believe in a life after this, where distance and time have no hold over our loved ones. And where we’ll all get together once more and forever. Where I can tease John Wagner about the drool and the pink. (You had to be in the Baen bar at the time to get it!) Where I can talk to Jerry about whatever interesting thought just crossed my mind. Where Dan and I will go for ice cream with Alan. And where, perhaps — if I’m very good — I can go for a walk on the beach with Dave and Wednesday.
I’m not in a great hurry for it. I’m not allowing that odd skeletal fellow to get too close, just yet. But I can see how, someday, his approach might be welcome or at least not fought against, because he knows the way to where all my friends are.
And I must believe that land exists, that place where they all are and where we’ll have time — a long time — to be friends, together.
Because no sane creator would make something as complex as love (agape, not eros, in this case) only to have it vanish forever at the whims of time and health and capricious fate.
It must continue, somewhere. Because it’s real, whatever else it is.
Somewhere the candle light and the tears must become golden light, by an endless ocean where there will be no more crying.