Saturday, March 24, 2012

For Allen

The past few days have been hard. A close family friend passed away three days ago and I have felt sad over the fact that I am not physically present to lend support to my parents and this man's family. I've known Allen since birth, and my parents met him when my dad went to dental school with him back in the 60s.  There are about six couples from "The Dental Group" that have been getting together at least twice a year for over forty years, and all of the children of these people grew up together.  Although spread out over Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and New Mexico, the couples have remained close. I've always admired their friendships. They have continually supported each other, whether to celebrate a wedding, birth or other fun occasion, or to comfort each other during a hard time.  I can't tell you how many times I've sung Ave Maria or the Lord's Prayer at a wedding or a funeral that was related to this group in some way.

I loved taking road trips to visit Allen, Bettye, Mark and Amanda when I was younger. I could always tell that we were getting closer to Cisco, Texas because my dad would relax and laugh more and more the nearer he got to Allen. Bettye is one of the most beautiful and giving people I know, and a great cook too. We had a lot of laughs at meal times. Mark was my prom date my junior year of high school and I remember feeling like a princess because he was so handsome. Mark, Amanda, my sister, my brother and I always had fun playing and swimming together and I loved going to Cisco in the summers because it was just fun to be together.  I have always felt that our lives were intertwined and that mine was improved because of their love.

Yesterday I was reviewing a letter that Charles Fraser, a Charleston artist and friend of Edward Greene Malbone, wrote after Malbone's death.  It was published in the Charleston Times, May 27th, 1807 and was the first tribute to appear publicly. This excerpt sums up exactly how I feel about letting go of people that I love.

"There are several events which, from the importance of their nature, and the particular constitution of the human mind, can never lose their claim to its deepest interest. The impressions they produce, are not weakened by the frequency of their recurrence - although they come unsolicited, their influence is felt with undiminished strength. Such is the premature fate of men of talents - a subject that has ever filled the breast with solemn and affecting sympathies; sympathies which will attend it as long as man feels, and is mortal."

As long as people have had the fortune of close and lasting relationships, loss has been felt when a friend or family member passes away. As Fraser wrote, the pain of these experiences is "not weakened by the frequency of their recurrence." This is part of the human experience. It doesn't matter how many times you go through the process of letting someone go. It just never gets easier, and sometimes I feel that when one person I love leaves, it's a reminder of all of the others I have lost in the past, as well. I think it's normal to feel that way.  Loss has a way of making us take stock and evaluate our own lives and that includes reminiscence, but in my own attempt to make peace with this part of life, I'm learning that we don't have to stay in that place.

There is always temptation to wish for earlier times, times when everyone you love was still with you. The only thing that I've found that has really helped me deal with loss is being present. Living right in the moment helps me to let go of the past. Of course, being present in this moment also means that I have to embrace and honor my feelings of sadness, so it's really hard. But I try to let those feelings go. I have to keep bringing my thoughts back to this moment instead of living in the past or worrying about the future. I have to sit right inside of every second and realize that I have everything I need to be alright, even when I'm sad. And because none of us is guaranteed even one more second, I want to relish in each moment and relationship that I do have.

I can remember after my grandmother died, my sweet friend Phillip gave me some comforting words. He said that when people leave, whether from death or other circumstances, he tries to say, "I'm just glad that I was fortunate enough to have them in my life for as long as they were there. My life is blessed and improved because of them and I enjoyed every second with them." At that time, I couldn't imagine getting to that point, but I really listened to Phillip. The truth is, as Fraser inferred, it never gets easier but we can give ourselves permission to simultaneously hold these people and memories in our hearts, while being at peace with letting them go. It just takes time to go through that process and to find that balance. One thing I know for sure is that we should be loving and patient with ourselves as we move through it. 

I love you, Allen. Tonight, I went to hear the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and the Dale McCoury band play together at a theater here in Savannah. Their two encore numbers were "When the Saints Go Marching In" and "I'll Fly Away." While everyone was clapping and dancing in that theater, I just stood there, smiling; tears flowing. It was as close as I could get to a ceremony for honoring you and letting you go. You were a great man, Allen, and I'm grateful for all of the memories and the times that I did get to spend with you. I enjoyed every second. 

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