I can hardly write, I feel so numb.
I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Christopher all week…since I heard the news that he passed away in his sleep Saturday night. He was 40, a devoted young father to two boys the same ages as my own children. He was not ill, he biked to work every day, ate an organic diet, worked in a health food store, lived a life of service to others, inspiring thousands along the way, and yet still, he went to sleep one night and just didn’t wake up.
I’ve said it before, and sorry to sound like a broken record, if I do, but…no matter how many times I go through this grief process, I still feel sucker-punched in the gut by it each time.
Christopher was a dear friend, who I had the honor of working closely with this last year, promoting his youth and Alzheimer’s poetry projects. But, I didn’t even know his favorite color or band, how old he was exactly, or where he grew up. I’d known him for 12 years, shared dreams of writing and becoming over coffee a million times, but I guess our friendship was puckered up perfectly inside a nice little “writing/service related” box, and never in all that time did we once pass the time with a cup of the 5 W’s – who, what, where, when and why’s of ourselves.
I knew his wife, but we never hung out together. I knew his kids, but they don’t know me.
I knew Christopher. I knew him when I was 19 and had just moved here, and had no friends. He was one of the first friends I made. He ignited ambition, vigor, and fire in me from the instant I met him. I knew him and admired him when he was working at the same restaurant I worked at on the morning shift, and I on the dinner shift, and occassionally we’d pass in the halls and share dreams and ideas again. He’d just published his book, and I thought, “Oh, if I only I could be like that one day…” (I’m still working on that one, Chris.)
I knew him this last year, since we reconnected and became the truest of friends we’d been all along. I volunteered to help him promote his poetry programs because his passion for all people, including me, was so infectious. He saw it an opportunity for both of us, and wanted to support furthering my writing career vicariously as we promoted his programs. The gift was all mine. Witnessing his selfless spirit, inspiring and connecting with young teens, and AD patients that most of society has already dismissed as half-dead…it was the most amazing, inspiring thing I’ve ever witnessed in my life.
I don’t understand why I’m so sad over his death. It’s not like we hung out all the time, like I’ll miss his daily presence in my life. It’s more that I just feel an ache that I’ll never see him again, that I can’t understand why he’s gone, that it doesn’t make sense, that this has robbed a mother of her husband, two children of a father, a community of a legend.
I have felt haunted by his memory all week. The first night, I dreamt that he found me and told me he was still alive, he’d faked his death and just moved to Ft. Collins after all. I guess that was my subconscious playing out my unwillingness to accept this tragedy.
On top of all that, yes, this is death number what, 14 or 15 in 3 years for me? And it is really, really getting old. I’ve peaced and pieced, and meditated and prayed, belief-ed and believed my way through these few years with violent devotion, diving head first into the pain to scrounge up some jewels within. I’ve embraced the pain, the feeling of being a Grim Reaper Girl, with death following me eveywhere I go. I’ve come to peace with death and my own immortality, in a way most people will not ever accomplish in their lives. I’ve faced every angle of death and grieving, I’ve found peace in the knowing that life goes on after death. I’ve turned my tears into teaching.
Yet, still, another death comes, and I am a paddle-less boat in an thrashing ocean. I have the wisdom now to know Christopher’s spirit could not be killed, and I have the openness now to feel him around me so I don’t have to feel the painful isolation of separateness from him. I have the tools to help me grieve through a seven step process I’ve developed myself and am trying to work up the courage to start sharing/teaching to others. I have a husband who has learned through 14 deaths how to hold me and touch me when I’m sad. I have a community who is sensitive and aware of the ridiculous heaps of pain I’ve had lumped on me the last few years.
Yet, still, I sit here feeling helpless, hopeless, devastated, alone, and aching.
Awhile back, at death, what, number 11, a friend shared with me a list of things all dead people want the living to know and #10 on that list was, “We were ready to go.”
I can’t understand how Christopher would have been ready. He had so much more to do. He had children to raise. No matter how beautiful the afterlife is, how much he had fulfilled some amazing purpose on this Earth, how did it serve this Earth or anyone, any greater, higher purpose, for him to leave two little boys, a wife, and an aching community behind at the prime of his life?
I see myself, looking in, and I know these are those all too familiar steps of grief…I’ve been in denial, I’m walking through anger, I’ve definitely felt guilt, and shock. I’ve had good days and bad. Days I thought, Ok I can move on now. Days I just want to sit around and dwell on this all day long.
The best I can do is allow myself to feel it all.
Maybe I didn’t know his favorite color, but I knew what burned in his heart so brightly that he had to share it with the world, with people no one else had the time to care about. I knew what it was to be inspired by him, to be considered his friend, to be a partner in his work of service to others. I knew him as a Dad, a poet, a friend, a mentor, a writer, an author, a waiter, a coffeehouse mate, a husband, a father, and so much more. And yes, I am grieving him, because just a couple weeks ago he told me to keep this big Bible of a Writer’s Market book he lent me to make sure I kept moving forward after my dreams, and for believing in me, I will never be able to stop feeling grateful for him.
One of Christopher’s students, now an extremely accomplished poet and teacher, thanks to Christopher’s ignition in his life, Myrlin Hepworth, wrote a gut-blowing tribute to Christopher and shared it on Facebook tonight. A few of his words singed my spirit and stuck to my heart like bugs to a fly trap.
But, most of all, these words rang true…as they are stretched straight from the guts of my own grief right now. As this former/supposed/thrust-upon “Grim Reaper Girl,” I’m so afraid to say how I feel anymore, so sure you’re certainly weary of the broken death-record of my life…but this is the truth.
Part of me wants to hide and mourn Chris quietly and selfishly, to deny, to fear, to be angry, to thrash at the world with my own agony. But I know those of us who knew Chris are all suffering the grief brought on by this loss and that we must struggle together, stand and smile, tears spilling from our eyes if they may, remembering our friend, celebrating our friend, allowing the world to say farewell to our friend as we step forward as we must to go forth and honor his legacy.
So, I’m standing with Myrlin, and many more, to say in plain sight, my whole body aches with grief, because even with all these losses I’ve had of every sort, shape and size, this is the first Christopher Lane I’ve ever lost. Christopher was to so many a man who swept in, ignited a spark in you, then sat by gently stoking the flame ’til it blazed into a fire. He built a safety net beneath you, then told you start climbing – higher, higher. He didn’t tell you, “Go get a dream.” He mirrored back the one he could see in your eyes, then fed and clothed that baby like his own precious child. He saw my dreams, and gave me new ones I didn’t know I had. He was a gift to this Earth, like a rare just-discovered endangered species we never knew we had. I ache for his family, his children, his community, the many “kids” he parented, and myself.
I will miss his light in my life.
Thank you for letting me share him with you.