Monday, February 14, 2011

Loss is Not the Whole Story

A friend, a 20 year friend, sat with us in Marty’s room. A welcome, sporadic visitor, she sat on the hassock at the foot of Marty’s bed and told tales of friends and family and we laughed together. She is where we get wonderful information about the lives outside our sphere buzzing around us. She is a friend of old who knows Marty now but knew Marty then, the best kind of friend, one of those who have read the whole book.

This good friend had told me the other day when we met by chance in the grocery store of the suicide. It was a short conversation like many conversations when you are standing in the grocery aisle trying to avoid the careening carts of the old and young alike. It was a conversation that needed more time.

She came over to talk about many different things, not just the black news. Marty’s legacy dictated that I had to ask, ask how she was, how she was feeling. It’s exactly what Marty would have done with her good friend. Marty would have looked at her and said simply, “Tell me how all of this makes you feel.” Our friend said she was looking for a place to put this new event and she wasn’t sure she was there yet. She then talked briefly about the other suicide in her past, one that left scars from so many years ago.

She then said, “I really don’t like to talk about it to people who aren’t close; I don’t want this to be all people know about them.” She then talked about the two people and how accomplished, how smart, how capable both had been before, before the act, before the deaths tended to define them.

Our friend sat there and told us snippets of lives we could never know, she painted a picture of people who were bigger, broader and more nuanced than just suicide. In our brief conversation she created lives lived, not just lives lost. She conveyed what was real about these very real people, she kept the book of their life open just a bit and didn’t let their untimely on purpose deaths define them for her or for us; they were not just people who willfully decided to leave life, they were people who had a much larger story, a much longer book.

I don’t know and can’t imagine the complex emotions survivors of suicide must have. I do understand trying to keep memories alive, I do understand trying to clarify the present for those who did not know the past. I have spent the last five years trying to ensure Marty’s legacy, trying to help people know more of Marty than today. It’s why I prize, why Marty values all of the people who knew her before the strokes. They’ve read the whole book, they get the whole story.

The day of the first stroke part of Marty left forever, the day of the 2nd stroke so much more was lost, so much of what made her Marty was now gone forever, dead for her, for me. We are fortunate because her life, her doggedness, her perseverance continues. She made the very conscious decision in the midst of all of this loss to “not go gently into that good night.” She made the decision to stay and live with the losses.

Like our friend who doesn’t want the past to be forgotten by the suicides, I do not want Marty to be just the strokes or what has remained from the strokes. We cherish the people who remember Marty’s humor, her intelligence, her bawdiness. It is my job to make sure those people don’t forget who she was and to educate the people who didn’t know her, to help them know who she was, and remind all that she is more than the strokes, she is more than just the most recent pages of the book, she is, was the whole book.

Our friend knows this of Marty and the people she loved and lost. If you really want to know people, you have to read and remember the whole story.