My friend Cecil died on Wednesday.
The last time I saw him was about three weeks ago, when my boyfriend Alan and I delivered a recliner to his little apartment in Old Salem. He’d mentioned to me that his favorite TV watching chair had broken, and he’d been resigned to sitting in a hard, straight-backed chair since. When a 78-year old man with COPD wants a comfortable chair, he should sure as hell have one.
Alan had an old leather recliner he was ready to be rid of. So we hauled it to Cecil’s house and set it up in his living room. We were kind of embarrassed about the chair. Kitty scratch marks marred the surface, and the chair was well-loved, well-worn. Cecil found it perfect. He settled back and sighed happily. “I never expected anything this nice,” he said.
I meant to go check on him. See how the chair was working out. He lived just a block off my typical walking route. Daisy, my dog, adored Cecil and the bag of dog treats he kept in his pocket at all times. She would excitedly pull me in the direction of his front porch each day, hoping to visit. But I didn’t make time these past three weeks to stop by. Just yesterday, hours before I learned he was gone, I said to Daisy, “We’ll go this weekend, I promise.”
It’s almost cliche to talk about the guilt one feels after a loved one dies. I feel guilty. I am sorry, so sorry I didn’t make time to go see Cecil once more. To sit on his porch and watch him feed my dog treats and pet her head. To spend a few minutes in the waning light of a summer evening with a man who reminded me so much of my grandfather who died nearly a decade ago.
But beyond the guilt there is this: I didn’t go see Cecil because I knew he was dying, and I was quietly trying to protect myself from what I feel now, the enormous absence of a good man gone. He’d been in and out of the hospital for months. His time was short. I feared the loss. I tried to soften it for myself by staying away. I failed miserably.
It’s the same reason I don’t call my grandmother as often as I should. Or why I pick stupid fights with Alan for no reason. Or why I go into hermit-mode when I feel depressed and avoid the loving compassion of my amazing friends.
It’s why all of us create in small and large ways barriers and boundaries to protect our tender, longing selves. This business of being human will break our fucking hearts. It’s messy and complicated and oh-so-terribly sad at times. We use numbness and addiction and anger and acres and walls and wars to keep ourselves from each other.
“This business of being human will break our fucking hearts.”
And yet. And yet….
The longing we have for each other is so obvious and clear. We are desperate and dying to be near one another. To make eye contact. To touch and hug. To lay in the darkness with our arms around another and know we are not so alone. To hear stories on a front porch in summertime and to remember how it felt to be a child. To be seen and heard. We want to know our lives matter. That our time here on earth was not spent in vain.
To become fully alive includes the deep and tragic and necessary understanding that we. are. temporary.
In a few more decades I won’t be remembered. The accomplishments I hold so dear will be long forgotten, diplomas rotting in an attic or a landfill. My face unknown in pictures. My name, a ghost.
But here’s the miracle, the hope, the wildly liberating truth of why we matter: our love lives on. The feeling ripples out from us to others like a stone breaking the still water of a pond. And the reverb is infinite. One small act of love today ripples out to a million others and into the next 1000 years.
“One small act of love today ripples out to a million others and into the next 1000 years.”
Love is our legacy to each other.
My friend Cecil died on Wednesday. He was not a rich man nor a famous one. He lived a simple life that ended quietly. But he was endlessly kind to me and to my dog. He smiled and laughed every time I saw him. He told me how much he cared about me. In spite of my best efforts to avoid it, he helped me break my own heart wide open to this messy and beautiful and tragic and amazing life.
Let your heart be broken.
Contributed Post by: Dr. Cyndi Briggs
Photo by: Ibai Acevedo