A sorrow larger than life

My heart aches for two of my brothers, Mark and Frank.  They lost a friend today, a man whom I principally knew because he befriended another brother, Steve.  Greg Harwood succumbed to complications relating to a failed heart surgery.  I don’t understand the medical piece; but he has gone.  His family and friends, including my brothers, must navigate a sorrow larger than life.

The only genuine conversation which I ever had with Greg took place at the after-gathering following the memorial service for my brother.  We stood a bit awkwardly against one wall of the restaurant.  He asked how I had been.  Tears rose in my eyes, tears that I thought I had exhausted.  Greg put a hand on my arm.  “I know,” he said.  “Me too.”

Neither of us broke the connection.  He asked a question about my son.  I made some reply.  I said my nephew Nick had been with us when we got the word.  He and I came to St. Louis.  We left Patrick with friends.  It seemed right at the time but seeing all the cousins running between the tables, I wished I had brought him.

We fell silent again.  “I’m sure it will be fine,” Greg said.  I looked into his face.  I knew nothing about him.  Was he married?  Did he have children?  On what basis did he feel competent to advise me on the wisdom of not bringing my son to his favorite uncle’s funeral?  But his words gave me comfort, as did the light touch of his hand.

A few minutes later, something happened to draw us into another room.  I think someone started singing, or stood to make a toast, or maybe alcohol got the better of one of us and a crying jag made the rounds.  Either way, our conversation ended.

I never saw Greg again, as far as I recall.  Based upon what I’ve heard in the last few days, he was married; he did have children.  He’d seen enough of life to give me the assurances which he offered twenty years ago.

When a good person dies, we find some way to ease our own pain.  So I intend to imagine Greg and my brother Steve walking on the banks of a river together.  They will find a willow tree, and lay themselves down.  They will rest.  Perhaps they will share a glass of wine, or a cold beer, or something heavenly that I cannot imagine.  Greg will gently place one strong hand on my little brother’s arm.  Steve will take comfort from his presence, just as I did, so many years ago.

It’s the sixteenth day of the fifty-sixth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.




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