I was going to start a piece with the following:
I thought I couldn’t live without Arnie Reisman. Paul Selwyn. Bob Dente. My son Dan, my sister Margie, my adorable mother. My funnier-than-anybody father. My elegant mother-in-law Asna. Maureen Stratford.
But it turns out I could. I found that I still went to Cronig’s and went to that half-price frozen case for Bell and Evans organic chicken thighs. I still watered my new dappled willow. I still listened to Barbara Kingsolver’s “Demon Copperhead” on Audible books. I still managed to watch “White Lotus.” In other words, life went on.
I started to write the piece knowing it was really a piece about grief, but found I couldn’t continue, because there were 107 more names. And if I had just listed name after name after name, the article would have just been a eulogy of loss. Besides, I always felt grief was something you couldn’t write about, that grief was something you could only experience.
But then I read “Grief Is the Thing with Feathers” by Max Porter.
And I sobbed my way through it. I had thought there were no right words. But this guy found them.
A few years ago, my husband and I actually made a list of people we loved whom we had lost. It sounds morbid, and maybe it is, but we had gone to three memorials that week, and we were sitting in a pool of tears. Is everyone dropping like flies, I remember asking half-jokingly. And then we laughed that nervous laugh. Because we had already cried enough.
People die. That’s logical.
But logic and emotions are strange bedfellows. Logically, death is part of the cycle of life. Everyone knows that. That doesn’t make losing someone easier.
When Lynn Murphy, my young neighbor, died, my heart broke for his mom and the world. He was going to write a great book. When my friend Judy Auchicloss died, all I could do was walk around repeating, “Judy’s dead.” Judy who used to come off the boat with bags of receipts from her famous kitchenware shop in Soho. She’d sit on the beach working. We met 40 years ago at a party in a four-story brownstone. I had never seen a place like it. There was a circle of interesting-looking folks, so we joined. Before I knew it, they were passing around something they called Amies — we were country bumpkins, and had no idea what amyl nitrate was. A sexy gal was flirting with my husband, and I didn’t like it. And then she had an episode that looked like cardiac arrest. My husband held her until she was breathing normally again. We looked at each other with that look couples who’ve been together a long time do; the “let’s get out of here” look. Two other people escaped that circle — Judy and David — and we became lifelong friends. Now Judy’s dead. And I am left with only a story.
Peggy Freydberg was 107, but it didn’t make it easier when I Iost her. We were girlfriends. We told each other our love stories. We confided in each other. Because of one of her brilliant poems, she reminded me to make my bed every day first thing. When she died I didn’t think, Well, she had a long life, so no point grieving over this one. I walked around thinking, No no no! Peggy’s gone.
We need better rituals around sorrow. We need to help the parents who say to their crying children, l’ll give you something to cry about. We need models for sobbing without shame.
And I need to know and remember that I know that I can survive without the physical presence of people I loved. All I have to do is make sure I keep my heart available for breaking. And look at my list once in a while.