The first thing I saw yesterday morning was the message that you died. I crumpled to the floor, weeping that I never told you how much I love you. I mean, I told you all the time but words are so insufficient. I hope you know how big a space you occupy in my heart.
“He was like a brother to me,” I sobbed to my husband as he cradled me. We sat in the kitchen in near silence, dazed by the wrongness of your leaving. It felt selfish to say it, but grief always is. Also, you were like a brother, to all of us. Family by choice and acceptance and the cockeyed certainty that we would be together again.
I always meant to restart our Thousand Words collaboration. Your photos and my prose would have made an excellent coffee table book, even if we only made two copies. Your were so supportive of my writing, which was high praise coming from someone with an artistic eye such as yours. You just got it, mostly because you struggled with the alternating rounds of self doubt and fuck-self-doubt that I have cycled through forever.
Every conversation we had was a real conversation. They might not have all been serious conversations, but with you I have always been able to let down my guard. Your photographer’s eye made you see things in focus; made it feel like you saw me. For real. We talked frankly about struggle; about the tiny triumphs that keep us optimistic in this weighty battle that is living.
And now you’re done. I’m in complete denial, expecting to see you again at our Thanksgiving table one of these years you make it back to the US. Ever since you moved to England and I’ve only been able to keep up with you through the internet, I’ve felt how empty our house is without your visits. I remember telling you that in person when you came back to see us all, but how could I ever tell you enough?
I am so sorry you’re gone. As the realization settles in and the grief really takes root, I’ll notice all the ways you’ve changed my life. How I can never look at abandoned buildings or graveyard statues or even goddamn crows in the same way I did before. All of them made me think of you before, but now they’ll carry extra meaning. The weight of remembrance for one of the dearest men I’ve ever known.
My whole family is heartbroken over your death, Alistair. My sister is feeling it most of all, and my son’s bottomless face when I told him the news said everything that needed to be said. There is never enough time with those we love; everyone in my family has been taught that lesson again and again. But this really is too soon, and too much, and too close for me to comprehend.
I am mostly an atheist, but there are some losses that make me want to cling to the Catholicism of my childhood. Yours is one of them. I want so badly to believe in some kind of afterlife, where we meet again and the wound of your absence can be healed. But even if there is, I still have to live the entire rest of my life with this hurting. I have to look at cemetery angels and know you’re gone.
All I can do now is try my hardest to wrap myself in gratitude for knowing you for as long and as well as I did. It may not have been as long or as well as I liked, but in all the possible lives we could have led, we lived ones that put us in each other’s orbit. And then we did the work to create a friendship that made me feel just fine to be a plain old, ordinary, deeply flawed human with value and talent and something of potential. Loving you as you were, accepting you as you were, and rooting for everything you were honestly did make me love everyone else a little more. Even, as corny as it sounds, me.
There are so many people out there who never had the privilege of knowing you. Whose lives will go on completely unaffected by the shockwaves of your dying. And as much as losing you hurts, as much as I am still a relative puddle on the floor, I wouldn’t trade this grief for anything. I am so fucking lucky to have known you. To be this bereft by the space you’re leaving on the planet.
Thank you for being part of my life. I am so glad that I was part of yours. Neither of us believe that we’ll ever meet again, so we’ll have to be content to have met this first time around. I may always wish for more time, but I will forever hold dear the time we had.
I love you, so very much,
image credit, Alistair James Olson. Rest now, my dear friend and brother. Your work here is done.