The day before he lapsed into peaceful unconsciousness and died, Jim spoke to his friend Bob, who was overseeing his care at home twenty-four hours a day. Bob and Jim had started out as physicians together, spending fifteen years as partners in an internal medicine practice.
Bob told Jim how knowing Jim had changed him. Jim responded, “The part of me that others take with them and the part of them I take with me. . . that’s my concept of the afterlife.”
On the long return drive from the Service of Remembrance, as the night grew black, I caught a flash of light in the rear-view mirror. It was a cartoon-cloud outline of brilliant coral light as the sun set on an otherwise gray night.
At that moment, after numerous misbegotten detours, I finally had reached a part of Massachusetts where a favorite radio station abruptly resumed the identity I sought, transforming near the Connecticut border from a country station back into The River.
The radio stations pre-set in my car are artifacts of Jim’s expansive love of music, some of them transmitted through one of our daughters, with whom I spend a great deal of time driving. My family always took driving time as an opportunity to educate me, about music and many other things.
This time I was very much alone, but every snippet of music brought back a family memory or a memory of Jim before we had our own family. During one family road trip to upstate New York, I simply could not get the group’s name straight on a snappy song that was getting a great deal of air play, and my children and Jim repeatedly corrected me: “No, mom, it’s not ‘Butcher Block for Babes’; it’s ‘Death Cab for Cutie.’”
Dozens of miles later I inevitably would come up with another dramatically wrong permutation on a song or group. My daughters would roll their eyes. Jim would laugh.
As I drove alone through the night, my spine aching, the song that marked the switch back to what we considered the real 92.5 was from an album I know Jim would have listened to and loved, Death Cab for Cutie’s “I Will Follow You into the Dark”:
Love of mine
Someday you will die
But I’ll be close behind
I’ll follow you into the dark
No blinding light or tunnels to gates of white
Just our hands clasped so tight
Waiting for the hint of the spark. . . .
You and me
Have seen everything to see
From Bangkok to Calgary
And the soles of your shoes
Are all worn down, the time for sleep is now
But it’s nothing to cry about ’cause we’ll hold each other soon
In the blackest of rooms
If heaven and hell decide that they both are satisfied
Illuminate the “no’s” on their vacancy signs
If there’s no one beside you when your soul embarks
Then I’ll follow you into the dark
And I’ll follow you into the dark.
Lyrics—like nearly everything else–now are tinged not only with the prism of continuing grief, but the particular sorrow of losing a spouse, of wondering how I possibly can continue to get by given the amount of me he took with him.
I had heard this song only once before, and interpreted it very differently then.
A recent medical study—which, frankly, I think bereaved spouses could do without—detailed some acute medical perils people face in the immediate aftermath of a husband’s or wife’s death. At first I heard this song in somewhat of a clinical way: as expressing the intersection of the physical shock and dangers of loss with a wish, born of grief, to follow one’s loved one, with dispatch, into “the blackest of rooms.”
I don’t hear the song that way now. I hear it the way Jim meant what he said to Bob: when he died he took a considerable part of me with him, not in the sense of leaving me unwhole and unable to cope, but its opposite: he left so much of himself with me, to strengthen me and keep me going, and he also took me as his companion, beside him, wherever he went.
He knew as much as a mortal can know about whatever lies beyond. Whether it’s dark or light, I’m with him there. But he’s also here with me.
(c) 2012 Stephanie M. Glennon