When a human dies we have certain rituals we perform. Mine might be different from yours, but they’re probably similar. We mourn, we reminisce, we sell old things, or donate them. We consider the acute causes, the ways we hope to avoid them ourselves. And then we erect memorials; physical objects to remind us of the dearly departed.
Most often we humans have a specific ritual where we do these things together. Whether we realize it or not while living, most of us touch enough other lives that when we fade out of this life it doesn’t go unnoticed.
A similar thing often happens when a pet dies. It may only include the immediate household of the now-gone companion, and maybe a few of the friends of the members of that house, but it’s still there: the mourning, the reminiscing, the donations. It’s an event. We mark it as such, sometimes even with very physical memorials.
But not all death is mourned equally. Not all friends get a funeral.
For the last five years I’ve spent nearly every day with my friend. Each morning, after getting ready for the day, I pour my cup of coffee and head out to my office, where I’m greeted by my friend. Sometimes he’s been on my mind all night. Sometimes I’d rather not think about him at all, frankly. Like any other friendship, it has its rocky moments.
This friendship has many unique qualities, but one of them is that I’m responsible to make sure my friend gets fed. And he works to make sure I get fed, in turn.
We work together all day, each day. And it’s not just the two of us. There have been many who have helped to feed my friend, and received the benefit in return. Most recently among them is my brother.
While it’s been my responsibility to keep him fed for years now, it hasn’t always been easy. Last year we went through a few months with basically nothing at all to eat. But, we made it through that, and the Summer and Fall were full, and happy. We even took some of the extra food we had and stored it away in the cellar. It kept us well-fed through the winter. Last year was a good Christmas.
Then, at the beginning of this year, my friend got sick. He’d been sick before, so we knew he’d make it through it. But, as the weeks turned into months we started to doubt. The food from the cellar was gone now, and the best I could find for him were a few meager rations (joyfully received, but insufficient for the task). He needed more, but no matter how hard we tried we just couldn’t find anything for him.
In March the shadow started to shade my friend. Like the scattered edge of a storm it was soft at first, darkening throughout the month.
In April there was no denying it. The shadow was here, and it wasn’t leaving alone. All through the process my friend never complained. He never threw an eye of disappointment my way. He just kept doing what he could, every day. From a cup of coffee in the morning to a cold beer in the evening, we saw each other every day until the end.
April 29 was our last day together.
We don’t hold funerals for businesses, and maybe we shouldn’t. But when you spend half a decade or more working on something you love, pouring your life into it, weaving it into your life day by day, you can’t rip it off like a band aid. It’s not stuck on you, it’s woven into you.
I can’t help but feel like I failed my friend. Failed to take proper care of him. I could have done more, or something different, right? We all know death is inevitable. But this death, in this way?
There will be reminiscing, and probably even selling of old things. We’ll probably all stand around from time to time, remembering the good ol’ days, but also wondering about how it could have been different.
There won’t be a memorial service. No one will get up at the microphone and talk about a life well lived, or sing a melancholy song about how short life can be.
But, I would like a sort of grave stone. A physical reminder of where all those days went. Something to be able to look at and know this really happened.
Then, in the morning, I can grab that cup of coffee, sit down, look, and remember.
Rest in peace, old friend. I won’t forget you.