A year ago we lost a friend. He was the father in a family within our community and his death was sudden and unexpected. Understandably, this opened a conversation in our house that was both difficult and necessary, and in the end yielded beauty and gratitude.
Our family has been somewhat blessed in this area. My children have not experienced the loss of anyone they are close to. The only losses my husband and I have endured recently are those of two of our grandmothers, and while their deaths were sad, both of them were nearly 100 and they had lived long full lives. Their deaths were expected. But to lose a friend, someone we had just gone camping with, was heartbreaking. Of course my older boys had many questions: why did he die? what happens after you die? what will happen to his kids? I tried to answer their questions as clearly and honestly as I could. But the truth is there is a part of this that I can never explain. Why him? Why did his two sweet boys and his loving wife have to lose him? How are they bearing it? And how on earth could we bear it if something like this happened to us? I don’t know the answer to any of it.
What I did know is that I would support them any way I could. For the memorial, our friend’s son decided he would like to make tshirts with a quote on them from his father and because I am a printmaker, they called me and asked me to help. I can’t begin to describe how honored I was. There was no more meaningful way for me to contribute, for me to say goodbye, than like this. The shirts would say “Be Awesome,” something our friend said often. It was his advice to the world: you choose how to move through life, so just be awesome. His son chose the design and I went to work.
The morning I began printing the t-shirts was cold and rainy. I set up my screen and ink on the table and organized the shirts. After a test run, I began working on the shirts I knew belonged to his family. I knew that this process would be emotional, but what I didn’t expect was that in all my concern about holding the emotional space for my kids, I hadn’t done my own work around it. And so I cried. I cried as I printed a shirt for his wife, and for his sister, and for his two sons who unfairly lost their dad too early. Then I began on the rest of the shirts for the memorial and as I pulled gain and again over the words “Be Awesome” I began to chant them in my head. Our friends legacy was clear: no matter what we just have to move on and be the best, do the best that we can.
And on the very last shirt, I pulled over those words one last time and in that moment the sun broke through the clouds and with brilliant light warmed the entire table. The words glowed brightly and I was at peace with all those questions I didn’t know the answer to. I didn’t need to know. Experiences like this are what matter. Choosing to “be awesome” while we are here is what matters. I am not a spiritual person but I felt that moment in every fiber of my being.
Even now, as I think of it a year later, I am filled with gratitude. I have no doubt that we have more losses to endure ahead, my hope is to remember the powerful grace of our friend and his family. Death is like art. It is an unfolding of experience and attempt until the soul is laid bare and vulnerable, and when you are finally laying there stripped, you understand. You are at peace. And you put yourself back together. Not in the same way, but in a way that is more worldly. More about love. More than yourself.