For Alicia

16 Nov

We put so much faith in our bodies, which is actually kind of funny, because they’re such sorrowfully flimsy things. A bundle of sinews and bones, a fluttering pulse, a damp, rolling eye – we’re really not made of much. We might be built from star-stuff, but we lack the sturdiness of stars, the predictability. It takes a huge gravitational collapse to kill a star; it takes tens of thousands of years for a star to die. But a human body breaks so swiftly and unexpectedly, and there are so many ways for a body to break.

A body can be broken with a spiny virus to small to be seen by the naked eye. A body can be broken by a handful of cells gone rogue, or a heartsick sadness, or a screeching collision between flesh and something hard and intractable, like concrete or metal or time. All bodies break eventually – they shatter or snap or quietly crumple. You can’t trust a body to be an adequate vessel for the complex network of thoughts and feelings and beliefs and memories that make up who you are, but on the other hand you don’t have much choice. A body is all you’ve got.

I went to my friend’s funeral today. I know it’s weird to drop that in here just casually, but I don’t know how else to do it right now. My friend died on Thursday. She had been sick for a long time, but even when you know it’s coming, a death like this still guts you. She was really young – or, rather, she was my age, which I still somehow consider really young, at least where death is concerned. Today was her funeral. I went to my friend’s funeral today.

There was a graveside service, and I shivered through the whole thing because the coat I wore was too thin – impractical, my mother would say. But the coat looked good, you know? I don’t mean that in a vain way; I just mean that my big, puffy down coat seemed wrong for a funeral. Not formal enough. I take a certain delight in the fact that there are still a few occasions in life solemn enough to warrant fancy dress. Marking the completion of someone’s life seems like an appropriate time to break out the finery – sombre finery, of course, but no less fine for that. Black silk skirts, high-heeled boots, neatly-pressed black trousers. Black leather gloves. A black cashmere scarf wrapped around the head, babushka-style. Black pantyhose so sheer you might as well not be wearing anything at all. And, of course, row after row of black wool coats.

So it was cold there, out by the graveside. I kept crossing and uncrossing my legs, pressing my thighs together, trying to keep my thin blood flowing. I had a hand-warmer in my glove because the friend who had driven me there had thought ahead and brought enough hand-warmers for everyone. The burial was in a meadow, and we had to tramp through tall, brittle grass to get to the grave site. It was an overcast day, but then midway through the sun broke through, that hard, molten-gold late-autumn sun. The light and the wind cut straight through us.

The coffin was unfinished pine, and there were sharpies passed around so that we could write love notes on it. I guess that sounds sort of grim, but it wasn’t at all – it was lovely. Later, after they’d lowered the coffin into the ground, we threw flowers on top of it. Mine was a pale pink Gerbera daisy; I looked down as I dropped it in, and I could see all these bright flowers in the darkness below, like a field of stars reflected in a lake. I made a note to write that down later. She would have liked that, my friend. She loved words – scratch that, she lived for words. She wielded them with an economy and precision that made me deeply envious.

Maybe she wouldn’t have liked that comment about the stars. Maybe it was too ham-fisted, too obvious, but I can’t even check with her to see what she thinks. It’s the little things like this that sometimes make death seem the most brutal – that you can’t just casually tell someone something. You can’t even write them a letter. You have to store all the things you want to say to them up inside you, and then what do you do with them? You just have to live with them, I guess.

I thought about how we must have all looked, standing out there in that meadow. I imagined us from an overhead shot, like we were in a movie – I pictured the camera arcing over us, its blind eye recoding this clutch of dark-clothed figures weeping and shivering. I thought: I bet we would look like kids from above. I felt like a kid – a little kid playing dress up in someone else’s fancy clothes and stiff dress shoes. I felt like a kid trying to process a feeling too huge and overwhelming to name – the kind of feeling that makes toddlers have howling meltdowns because some enormous wave of emotion has just washed over them leaving them screaming, flailing, trying desperately not to drown.

I felt like a kid this afternoon, but I also felt like a grownup. Or, at least, the situation felt grownup. I thought, this is what adults do. They watch their friends die. They go to their funerals. They stand in cold fields as their friends are lowered into the ground. This is what the rest of my life will be like.

Because bodies break, and they’ll break harder and faster the older I get. This is where I live now.

I miss my friend.

04-tyrrel

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38 Responses to “For Alicia”

  1. mgpcoe November 16, 2014 at 4:06 am #

    This is hauntingly beautiful. I think she’d be proud of you for it.

  2. glenn2point0 November 16, 2014 at 4:07 am #

    Death is one of the inevitable situations that no-one can beat. It;s inportant to make the most of the time we have and tell those we love how we feel about them when they can hear it…whislt they are alive. Life can be way too short for some and others say they have lived too long.
    I agree with the simple unfinished pine coffin…simple. How much we loved someone is not reflected in how much is spent on a coffin. It’s expressed in words and through actions when they are alive.
    So sorry for your loss.

  3. Sharon Greene November 16, 2014 at 4:22 am #

    This was a beautifully written post. Your descriptions of death and dying are so eloquently written. I am sorry your friend died. This was a very touching tribute that honoured her death.

  4. smartypants196 November 16, 2014 at 4:23 am #

    what a beautiful tribute. As hollow as it sounds, i am sorry for you losing a friend. One can never have enough of them. Someday you will be remotely viewing your own funeral, from above just as you noted, she was there flying high above you all, free at last.

  5. J November 16, 2014 at 4:23 am #

    Beautifully honest…Thanks for sharing this. I lost a close friend at a very young age and it changes you profound ways…

  6. AmazingSusan November 16, 2014 at 5:11 am #

    Yes.

  7. Lyla Michaels November 16, 2014 at 5:22 am #

    Reblogged this on Conversations I Wish I Had and commented:
    “I felt like a kid this afternoon, but I also felt like a grownup. Or, at least, the situation felt grownup. I thought, this is what adults do. They watch their friends die. They go to their funerals. They stand in cold fields as their friends are lowered into the ground. This is what the rest of my life will be like.

    Because bodies break, and they’ll break harder and faster the older I get. This is where I live now.

    I miss my friend.”

    I’m sorry for your loss. I unfortunately know how it feels. You wrote a beautiful text. Maybe the people we love and miss are somewhere looking over us. I know I’d like to think of them that way.

  8. Sarah Kathleen November 16, 2014 at 5:34 am #

    Reblogged this on A Person and commented:
    I got on here expecting to write a love note to my boyfriend. Silly, I know, but I’m so awful at being expressive that it’s truly necessary.

    What’s awful, I feel like, is the familiarity.

  9. Oneinamillion November 16, 2014 at 5:51 am #

    This was so beautiful. I’m sorry something so sad had to happen to bring it about.
    I’ve been feeling similarly about adulthood after someone I know, also young, died. I just thought: this is adulthood, this is going to keep happening.
    I also wish we could do what toddlers do. A full tantrum sometimes feels like a good idea.

  10. reallyintothewords November 16, 2014 at 7:05 am #

    I’m so, so sorry for your loss.

  11. idealfreelance1 November 16, 2014 at 7:11 am #

    so deep and touching friend, keep it up

  12. Amanda Martin (writermummy) November 16, 2014 at 7:27 am #

    Heart-wrenchingly beautiful

  13. dbp49 November 16, 2014 at 7:34 am #

    Condolences never seem like enough at times like this, and I really do feel bad for you. It’s just that the words escape me. They always have. I’ve always believed in an afterlife, and it has to be somewhat better than this simply because I believe in progression. It’s not that I’m cold, I feel for you, you lost a friend, and that calls for grieving. I wish I knew some better words, but for now, God bless is all I’ve got.

  14. welliswan November 16, 2014 at 8:17 am #

    Thank you.

  15. emtag2 November 16, 2014 at 9:36 am #

    This is beautifully written. I love the bit about the stars – I’m sure your friend would love it too. I am sorry for your loss.

  16. smirkpretty November 16, 2014 at 12:24 pm #

    This takes my breath away. Thank you for writing it. I’m so sorry you lost your friend.

  17. Liz Woodbury November 16, 2014 at 12:44 pm #

    I’m so sorry. These words are a beautiful tribute to your friend.

  18. Deb November 16, 2014 at 1:23 pm #

    Lovely words for someone you cared deeply about.

  19. bloggeretterized November 16, 2014 at 1:30 pm #

    Your words are heart warming, honest and loaded with feelings, they come from the heart. And that is priceless.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings. It’s not weird to throw them just casually. You have a way with words that I would think your friend, who you said lived for words, would appreciate and cherish. I’m glad you didn’t store these words inside you. Once again thank you for sharing.

  20. aqilaqamar November 16, 2014 at 2:48 pm #

    This was very beautifully written. I am sorry for your loss but the dedication is also a beauty.

  21. andreakbeltran November 16, 2014 at 2:52 pm #

    A poignant tribute–I’m sorry for your loss.

    My family and I buried my grandfather earlier this week. I’m grateful for your words here.

  22. Andrea ( aka rokinrev) November 16, 2014 at 3:23 pm #

    This is a wonderful tribute to someone you obiously care a great deal about. Death is the great equaluzer whether we want it to be or not. Please remember her each time you think of how much you and she cared fir one another, and be good to yourself

  23. lauren November 16, 2014 at 3:52 pm #

    Well expressed and moving. I’m so sorry for the loss of your friend.

  24. Aqeelah Ikram November 16, 2014 at 4:44 pm #

    Reblogged this on Aqeelah Ikram and commented:
    The only thing absolutely guaranteed to us in our lives is death. While we live within eternity, we exist within the confines of time. Its sombre and morbid. Perhaps those who think about death often have grasped life and love it most. Transcending the confines of time must be sought through the morphing modes of which are often disdained. I choose wholesomness but I still wonder if this is really a possibility; a state of mind, a physical condition. Funny how the heart aches when it is grieved, don’t you think?

  25. aqilaqamar November 16, 2014 at 5:31 pm #

    Reblogged this on Iconography ♠ Incomplete and commented:

    Ann Theo writes a beautiful piece on her friend who recently passed away…

  26. Susan P November 16, 2014 at 6:08 pm #

    Beautifully expressed. I am sorry for your loss.

  27. GChavez-Orozco November 16, 2014 at 8:17 pm #

    I am so very sorry. I lost a dear friend of mine recently as well. Death comes upon us far too soon. Thank you for your post.

  28. Serena Patterson November 16, 2014 at 8:57 pm #

    I love your writing. I have buried a few friends now, and a parent, and many pets. Few people here get really buried anymore in the “old fashioned” sense of a whole, unburned body into the ground. But that wrenching moment, after the flowers, when the dirt falls, is a final, heart-wrenchingly sad, and appropriate agony. Comfort to you, and the peace of the stars–but not the cold of the stars. I never liked the cold part…maybe better have some chicken soup. With star-shaped noodles.

  29. izzy82 November 16, 2014 at 11:57 pm #

    Oh gosh, I am so, so sorry. It’s a sad time. People I’ve been close to who died were elderly and that is still such a loss. When someone younger dies, it just feels unfair (and by younger I mean under 80! Maybe 70?). Quite a few of my high school classmates have died. I wasn’t close to any of them but it’s still sad and feels eerie, like, how could they only live til 21, 26, etc? How sadly strange is it that I knew them in high school (middle school even) and that was during their last decade of life? Very sad…

  30. Ann K. November 17, 2014 at 12:25 am #

    I’m sorry you lost a friend. As you say, no matter how much you see it coming, it leaves a hole. As for the things you wish you could say to her, some people visit graves and say them there. Some people write them down and leave it at the headstone. People have left thousands of items at the Vietnam memorial wall. http://edition.cnn.com/2009/US/11/11/vif2.memorial.mementos/index.html?eref=rss_us

  31. Ninasusan November 17, 2014 at 6:01 am #

    Sympathies to you…an amazing post!

  32. Liz November 17, 2014 at 2:05 pm #

    That was beautiful. I’m sorry for your loss.

  33. pixie November 19, 2014 at 5:42 am #

    Very sad post. It’s important to be reminded of our mortality so we cease the moment and love those around us. I’m sorry for your loss

  34. thegreatannabanana November 19, 2014 at 10:06 pm #

    Reblogged this on The Great Anna Banana and commented:
    I’ve been going thru bouts of depressing phases, different phases yet I’m still in the the same part of my life. I thought one of the reasons is that I’ve already lost a lot of people in my life. You know, death becomes them. So when I read “For Alicia”, it was all familiarity. It’s haunting, sa lonely, scary, yet full of longing for somebody important in her life.

  35. skipmars November 20, 2014 at 11:33 pm #

    I’m old enough to have survived (that’s how we’re referred to as relatives) the deaths of many in the family, and quite a few friends. My grandmothers, my step-grandfather, my parents, my brother-in-law. Some faded with age, others did not go quietly into that good night.

    I really like the idea of a plain pine casket. I like the idea of not a lot of pomp. I like the Irish wake idea: plenty of scotch and memories and funny stories being shared. Or, like one movie I saw — a reed barge floating down a river, set ablaze to carry me out into the ocean — maybe like the funeral scene in “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”

    Mortality is built into these lives we live. Kind of like the engineered obsolescence of many manufacturers. Whether or not we get to meet the Manufacturer is conjecture — unless you have had the opportunity to die, and then come back from the grave (just being pronounced dead doesn’t count, I think).

    I know you and all of us who lose people we love grieve the losses. There is a black hole that person once filled, and everything about them — their eyes, their spark, their aroma and aura — is sucked into that space. And memories, photos, maybe videos or their writing — is the content of what’s left.

    That’s why I write, I guess. To make the statement I was here. To leave a nugget of verse my children or great-grandchildren will stumble upon, and say, “Huh!”

    Celebrate your friend. Celebrate all those whom you lose. And celebrate them often. With a smile. With a toast. With their own words, if available.

    Very nice response to your friend’s death.

  36. restlessjo November 22, 2014 at 9:14 am #

    I, too, shivered at a graveside funeral this week. A relatively young man- well, younger than me, and that always seems wrong. Makes you feel kind of lucky to be the survivor, but still, indescribably sad. You say it well. 🙂

  37. Lauren December 20, 2014 at 6:55 am #

    And it was a funeral 2 weeks ago for me…

    You have done your friend well with these words- at the end it is all you have left to give sometimes.
    I’m so sorry you lost your friend.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. On the twelfth day of Christmas: Anne Thériault | Sex blog (of sorts) - January 15, 2015

    […] favourite post was about death. God, I’m not doing a great job on the hardsell here, am I? For Alicia, though, is beautiful, in every sense. It’s a tribute, and one that notices details that a […]

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