Goodbye

Goodbye

Four days is a long time. A lot can happen.

Four days ago Sgt. Brian Abrams was alive. Four days ago he hadn’t lost control of his motorcycle, he hadn’t crashed into a stone wall, he hadn’t hit his head on a rock. Four days ago he hadn’t needed an airlift to Maine Medical Center, where surgery did nothing to revive him. Four days ago his family didn’t have to decide whether to remove the machines that were keeping Brian alive. Four days ago Brian could breathe on his own. Four days ago Brian wasn’t dead.
Today he is dead. Brian died last night at approximately 4:50 p.m., surrounded by friends and family. I was at IME when I heard the news. I was also surrounded by friends. It did little to soften the blow, however. When I got home I wrote an email to a friend, not really with the intention of hearing back, but more as a journal entry shot into space. I wanted it to land somewhere green, somewhere vibrant and alive, where death doesn’t exist and sorrow, suffering and pain are just echoes. I reread that email today and realized it was more a note to myself than to anyone else. I though maybe it belonged here.

Hi. I need a few minutes to unwind. A friend, a local Fish and Game officer who I had regular contact with through the paper, got in a motorcycle crash over the weekend. He hit his head (he wasn’t wearing a helmet), and suffered a serious brain injury. He was airlifted to Maine Med, but he never woke up. His family turned off life support this evening. He had two daughters, seven and 10, and he was quite possibly the nicest man I ever met. I spent today reporting on the story, calling state officials trying to convince them to release a statement about my friend, then calling around to friends in the climbing/rescue community who had worked with him to get them to share their stories about Brian. I cried a dozen times at my desk today, thinking about the pain his family was going through and what it was going to be like for those two little girls. I skipped singing class and stopped at IME after work. The owner, Rick, was a close friend of Brian’s. While I was there Celia, Rick’s wife, got the call that they had pulled the plug. There were two other rescue team members there. We all cried.

It’s just been a long day. I want more than anything to just melt into the covers and cry. And, well, I can’t. So I’m groping for a little bit of connection.

In my heart I know Brian’s suffering is over, or at least moved beyond any form I recognize. His moment, his life, has passed. This pain in my heart is about me, about my fear, my uncertainty, my own feelings of loss. But there those feelings sit. I’m doing my best to be gentle with them, to not be mad at myself for getting so upset. I want to celebrate him and his life, but the sense of loss is like a wet cloth draped over my nose and mouth — it makes it hard to breathe. And I know my feelings of loss are illusory compared to those of his children and family.

I can’t stop thinking about a short story I heard several weeks ago about three kinds of death. First your body dies — that is one kind of death. Then the last person who ever knew you dies — that is another kind of death. Then there is the last time your name is ever spoken — that is a third kind of death. I don’t know why today made me think of that, but it’s been in my head all daIt’s all a dream. The impermanence, the meaning of plans and expectations, the interpretations of good and bad, right and wrong, it’s all just a crazy mess of electromagnetic pulses across gray matter that starves in minutes without oxygen. There is no up, no down, but our minds yearn for clarity and so they assign such markers. It’s madness, and in the end we all die anyway. The clarity we seek is just a game, an illusion, smoke. 

I’ve stopped making sense. I guess today didn’t make sense, which makes sense because the world doesn’t make sense, no matter how hard we try to make sense of it. The only thing we have is the ability to connect, and even connection is impermanent, transient, fleeting. In this moment, tonight, I’m searching for connection, for someone to tell me I won’t die alone, that I am not alone in the vastness of the space. Because how do I know I’m not? Maybe everyone else is just part of a movie — players with a set script that rolls ever on with no notice of my contribution. Maybe I’m the only one without a copy, the only one with these thoughts, these fears. Maybe I am truly alone.

Either way I will die alone, even if it is among friends. That is a trip we can’t partner up for, which is terrifying. A few months ago I discovered a phrase, “I may die today,” that carried me through dark days. It served as a reminder not to be afraid, because life is not within our control. Carefully tiptoeing doesn’t change the fact that I STILL may die today. So live BOLDLY, without the weight of fear. Only I’m not sure how to do that, so I just act the way I think someone who knows how to do it would act. Maybe that way I can get there.

Life is a mess. Not mine, but life in general. It gets places through messing up, through killing off hearts and souls without rhyme or reason. I laugh at the way I used to look at it, trying to understand it all, judge it all, take it all in and make statements of fact like I had any idea. I don’t even know if I’m alive, or if I’m just caught in a dream in the moments before death. Who even knows? It’s all just a play, and the script is burning as it’s written.

Moments of connection are fleeting. Maybe they’re not even real. But when a friend dies you realize you never told them how inspired you were by their kindness, their gentle grace. I remember this same feeling when I learned my high school friend Bill Ballard was dead. At 18 he was the best man I’ve ever known, and I never told him. I’ll never live up to the ideal of telling everyone all the time how much they mean. If I did the words would lose their value, their meaning, their truth. But in this moment, in losing Brian, I realize how much love is out there, how much love is in my life, and how much love is in my heart. So much it fills me up, drowns me, knocks me off guard, confuses and leaves me breathless. I hope that never changes. I’m pretty sure it never will. Life’s beauty overwhelms me.

I haven’t got much else to say. In fact, I’m not really sure I said anything at all, or that what I said made any sense. I was/am just looking for a lantern in the fog, another marker along the way that promises warmth, light, life. They seem spread far apart some days, but I have to trust they are there, even on the nights I can’t see them. I try not to make sense of their blinking patterns and instead just let them be what they are. They float like fireflies in the night — too magical to hold in your hand for more than the briefest moment.

It’s just after midnight, and I have to work in the morning. I’m going to bed. Thanks for giving me a place to just unload. You are not expected to respond.

It was a lot to digest, but I thought it fit here. And you are already missed, Brian. Thank you for the smiles, the quiet honesty of your presence, and all the lessons. They are unfolding still.