I had just been talking with a co-worker about growing tomatoes, and how I was late planting the tomato seeds I’d gotten at a friend’s funeral back in October, when I found out that that friend’s wife, Jodi, had died.
As usual, I’m struggling with the appropriate response…both virtually and in the real world. I’ve been on her Facebook wall repeatedly, tapping out letters and words that I then delete, feeling confused about just what is the appropriate response in the time immediately following the death of a friend.
After all, Facebook is where you wish “Happy Birthday” to people you rarely, if ever, see face-to-face, right? I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that. I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with posting an RIP message on somebody’s Facebook wall. But to honor the person in this case, there’s a need for something other than drive-by (surf-by?) condolences. And, no, I’m not considering this piece to be the adequate response.
The message I kept reworking essentially came down to this…
Jodi had been battling that vicious monster since before I met her, over 12 years ago. She fought with such grace and tenacity that I was sure she would outlive us all. And if the kindness one unleashes in the world, and the reverberations of that kindness, count in the tally of one’s years, then I’m sure she will.
In case there’s any question, the above isn’t one of those bullshit eulogies, like when Richard Nixon died, and suddenly everybody remembered what a great guy he was, despite the mountains of evidence to the contrary. Everybody who met Jodi loved Jodi. And I’m pretty sure that would have held, even if she had been tied to some ridiculous scandal that led to a widespread loss of faith in American democracy.
Jodi was just one of those people who was funny, warm, and fun to be around. She could slap you with a sarcastic comment that made you instantly feel like a part of her family. She seemed to have a bottomless well of good will and giving. She was the kind of person who lived her life, with cancer, better than most of us live our lives in good health.
A friend of mine from college, Jared, had a semi-serious theory that when a person dies, that person’s soul explodes into a whole bunch of little pieces, which blast out into the world, and attach themselves to the souls of all the people who ever loved that person, becoming a part of all of those people. Jared’s evidence for this was that, when his grandfather died, he was suddenly taken with the urge to go out fishing—something that he had never done, but his grandfather had done religiously. Jared described a beautiful, solitary day out on a lake, where all the love he had felt for his grandfather resolved itself into a sense of peace in regard to his grandfather’s passing, and the meaning of his grandfather’s life, and the lives of us all.
Now, I can’t say that I subscribe to Jared’s theory of exploded souls. But a weirdly similar sense of “exploded soul attachment” hit me shortly after I received the news of Jodi’s passing. Of course, I was knocked off balance. I wondered if I should leave for the rest of the shift, out of concern that I might be overwhelmed with the demands of assisting people through crisis situations. I gave my co-workers a heads up, essentially enlisting their help in ensuring I didn’t make a mess of things.
But instead of the feared distraction and destruction, I felt imbued with a sense of caring and connection with the clients, which is often difficult to engage. That is, as something of a survival technique for the job, it’s necessary to avoid getting caught up in the drama and emotion of the lives of clients, while also being able to convey a sense of empathy. It’s a difficult balancing act to keep an appropriate sense of distance, without disengaging. But all I felt was calm, a sense of presence with the clients that can be difficult to maintain while also staying on top of the other elements of the job.
Supposing for a minute that the theory of exploding souls is true, my piece of Jodi’s soul manifested itself in the feelings of calmness I experienced—an ability to connect and remain in the moment. Even my exchanges with clients I have spoken to hundreds of times were a bit more ‘in the now.’
I’m going to try to hang onto that little piece of her soul.
And for now, I’m going to get those tomato seeds in their pots, and think on how glad I am to have had the opportunity to craft and share a few lakeside, breakfast Bloody Marys with Jodi.