Sunday, October 03, 2010

A Friend, Gone. A Friend, Remembered

This weekend Chris and I took the kids to a memorial for our friend Pat. Pat lived across the country and was about ten years our senior. We met him through our college, as alums. He was a committed alumnus who served as alumni board president and enthusiastically volunteered on behalf of the college for many years.

We did not see Pat often. For a while we lived relatively close to one another. More recently we saw him on occasion and talked some by email. He came to town once a year or so, but had a lot of friends here. He had a lot of friends in general. I knew this, but at the memorial and by reading his facebook page I am realizing just how enmeshed he was with his friends. He remained close with a number of his classmates, but he also made friends with people like me and Chris, people who did not overlap with him in school but who he nevertheless sought out for friendship of varying levels of closeness.

Over the past two years Pat was in touch, calling or emailing to say he was thinking of us, that he was reading the blog and was happy to see the kids, that he hoped we were doing alright. Sometimes I responded, but not always. I was busy, tired, overtaxed emotionally and did not have time for what felt like another thing to put on my to-do list.  When I learned Pat had died I felt terrible, both for the loss of a friend but also because it called out my own failings as a friend. My failure to consider that his calls might be reaching out because he needed something. Or worse, that I knew he needed something but didn't want to reach back to give it to him.

Talking to his friends on Saturday I understood that he reached out a lot in a way, but that many people were similarly unaware that he was in such bad shape.

A group of us met on campus to make weathergrams from Pat's sayings, song lyrics he loved and other things that reminded us of him. Traditionally a weathergram is a very short poem about nature's beauty. I love using weathergrams in a memorial. The slip of paper hanging from a tree draws you in, it is ephemeral, it is beautiful.  

The weathergrams for Pat said, among other things: "I love my sons," "hee hee" and "Reagan is a dickhead." They also quoted Jimi Hendrix and included notes of care and concern from friends across the country. 

I wasn't sure how it would work to take the kids to this memorial, but both Chris and I wanted to go and this was the only way to make it happen. Chris and I biked the kids across town to the college, which felt like a treat for them and for us. As people gathered, talked and made weathergrams, Ian and Mira ran around laughing and crying and eating. Ada made two weathergrams in a made up language. She whined some and asked why we were sitting around, but overall it worked out. I saw some people I had not seen in a long time. I found out more about Pat's last months. I teared up a little, more than I wanted to but less than I thought I might. 

As the sun started to go down, Chris took Ian and Mira home while Ada and I joined the others on a walk across campus, placing weathergrams as we went. Ada took the "hee hee" paper, and chose a low tree on which to hang it. We got to the main entrance to campus, where a young garry oak sat in a hole ready to be filled with dirt and Pat's ashes. We took turns spreading the ashes and shoveling the dirt. I explained to Ada what was going on (including a vague explanation of the ashes as what remained of Pat after he died) and she did pretty well with it. Remembrances were read and Pat's memory invoked. We agreed that he would love to be remembered with a tree that stands guard on campus, greeting visitors and new students. 

After the ceremony Ada and I walked back across campus, examining some of the weathergrams and even explaining to a couple of students why the papers were there. It felt good to be able to tell strangers that we'd hung the papers in a friend's memory, how much he'd loved the school, that I was sad he was gone. The young men asked what his name was, which seemed right. Pat would have enjoyed making a connection with these young men.

Ada and I rode home in the dark. It was late, and she still hadn't eaten dinner. We stopped to get hamburgers and fries. It seems tangential to mention this, but Pat loved his sons so much and his memorial made me want to hold my children close. I wanted to extend this time with Ada, wanted to ride through the night with her for hours. One day too soon she won't want to do this with me any more. 

My weathergram for Pat read "distance is nothing among friends" but maybe it should have been "love now." I would like to think he would have agreed with that sentiment. 

October 2: Blue Stripe
Ada, waiting for the hamburgers

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