Dawn. It was our friend’s last day, a Sunday, fittingly for a man of such faith.
Almost five years ago, a week after my husband Jim was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, Chris strode into our lives. We were then only just getting to know his oldest child, who has since become like a son to me.
It’s an understatement to say it was a delicate time in our lives, given the shock and awe of that diagnosis.
Chris and his son arrived in our driveway in a Crown Vic that now sports a Marine sticker. No one cuts off the driver of such a car. Jim and I went to the front door when we heard the stone-strewn driveway crunch and the car doors thunk shut.
Chris powered over the old pine boards to the evergreen door where many others who’d known us for years hesitated and others shied away, not having any idea what to say.
Chris had already outlived a dire prediction after being diagnosed more than two years earlier with metastatic cancer.
He shook my husband’s hand. “Nice to meet you,” he said. Radio voice: clear and sonorous, with a dash of gravel. “I’m sorry about your diagnosis.”
Perfect. Warm and direct and compassionate. No dancing around.
And then he looked at me–quivering, wet-eyed, bereft me–and sensed I could use just a little something more, a soupcon of hope. He said, “I know it’s hard . . . but look at me.” And here he held out his hands theatrically, palms up to the sun, thick chestnut hair much like Jim’s. He did indeed look terrific: “I’m still standing.”
And both Jim and I smiled for the first time since we heard the words, “This is your tumor….”
One of this world’s great blessings is a family of friends: an entire family that blends with another and develops friendships all around.
Like ours, the family of which Chris was so justifiably and enormously proud includes two sons, followed by two daughters. Each family has a wacky curly-haired mom with a background in law enforcement, a proclivity towards acquiring puppies with behavioral issues, and deficiencies in the meal preparation department (“I fed him lasagna that tasted like cahdboahd!” my Doppelganger said–she has a Boston accent– after Jim drove to their house with our daughter for the first and last time during Jim’s final winter).
I could not even begin to catalogue the kindnesses Chris and his family have given each one of us since Jim died. Even as Chris’s own health deteriorated, his capacity to energetically welcome people in didn’t waver. Bear hugs all around every time we saw him. Whenever he and any combination of kids came to our town, they’d coax me out and insist on feeding me. And they’d make me laugh.
Once, soon after I’d moved to a new home where I was alone when all of my own children were away at school, he invited me for dinner with the family. I was having a tough time organizing belongings, and would have stayed inside the house alone and cried myself to sleep, but I knew begging off wouldn’t work. Resistance was futile. I spent the evening with all of them as they regaled me with hilarious family lore, alternately embarrassing their children with stories–just as it should be.
His elder son brought Chris and his wife to my Moth Mainstage show in Boston last spring. The theme was “Coming Home.” The three of them endured my describing how we brought my husband home to die.
It’s not been an auspicious year so far in my household. It began with a spate of injuries and illnesses, though mercifully nothing unmanageable.
And then I found out Chris had died at home, where his wife and children tenderly took care of him. I drove north and parked on the icy surface of an already packed driveway. I had intended only to drop off a card, but one son was in the driveway assisting his grandmother. Once his grandmother was taken by someone else’s hand, he saw me and gave me a big hug and told me to go in and see his mother.
“You’ve got family here. I don’t want to intrude,” I said.
“You’ve always got a family here,” he said. I was looking into Chris’s brown eyes.
I had not known that Chris was still there. He was in a room in which his favorite music played. His wife, far stronger than I, had cared for his body herself and tucked him under a nubbly sapphire blue blanket.
On the way home, I had to pull over several times. The sky was stunning, slightly broken crystalline blue hearts cushioned by silver and white and heaven-lit by beams of sunlight. A deep blue blanket of clouds lay atop the White Mountains, a seamless space between heaven and Earth.
I cried at the side of the road, as I had after Jim died, about how Chris just shouldn’t be missing this sight.
And then it occurred to me that the two of them now have the best views of all.
51 thoughts on “Goodnight, Sweet Prince”
Beautiful! And we still keep going…
Thank you–another of my wise sisters-in-law observed that a funeral is never only that funeral, and I think a death is never only that death, but the cloth that takes up the thread of all those sorrows (in Naomi Shihab Nye’s gorgeous poem).
And so they do.
I have to believe they do.
Oh yes. I feel this way about my father and father in law, both of us convinced the two of them are together looking down on us, comparing notes and chuckling at our efforts. We light candles in churches, at home and away, and imagine them relaxing as they listen to the choir in such tranquil and trouble free surroundings. They are always with us.
What a wonderful, peaceful picture. I’m glad your heaven, too, keeps the laughter along with (and part of) the love.
It is indeed. As we sit in companionable silence and watch the two flames side by side flicker, we imagine the two old boys in conversation, especially as they seem to take it in turns to flicker most! We miss them both.
That was a beautiful post thank you for sharing it with us. I lost my brother when he was just 15 to a tumour, now 15 years on I’ve watched many friends lose people, it makes you realise just how important love and support is to life and how we can all make a difference.
This post made me so sad that you had another loss in your families — you honor this man and his family with your thoughtful, loving words about family/friends relationships. AM
Sometimes a little bit of writing is all you can do.
I’m not sure if I translated and understood all correctly…
I think, it’s really sad but it shows the importance of the family and people around us, what gives all of us perhaps a little hope.
I think you may have translated better than the original! I’m so glad you found hope in there. Thank you.
Talked with Noah a bit about this yesterday. I’m so sorry to hear about Chris – sorry for your loss, sorry for Dan’s, sorry for Emma’s.
But we are also so glad for our “extra” families ❤
So sorry to hear about Chris…
Thank you, Amy.
Such a beautifully poignant post, Stephanie. Thank you for sharing such beautifully bitter sweet memories.
Thank you. I think writing about them eventually helps me see the sweet better than the bitter.
Beautiful remembrance. And I’m sure you all will stay in touch. I truly believe they would have wanted it that way. Good write.
Thank you. We have, and I hope will forever, stay in touch….and I suspect Jim and Chris are still chuckling at some of their wives’ antics back on solid ground…..
Very sad to read and your words brings the pain to us, your readers, but in such a way that is supportive and strong. A beautiful way to remember ~ and to share the love with us all.
Thank you so much for the lovely words.
This is beautiful. So touching and beautiful.
A beautiful and heartfelt response. It brought me to tears alongside you in your car at the end. Thank you for sharing.
I appreciate your reading and letting me know–thank you.
A beautiful story and very well written story. I can feel the pain of her loss.
I liked how you wrote about sadness.
Thank you, Emma.
So sad and so sweet and wondrous.
It’s very nice of you to read and let me know–thank you.
I am so sorry for your loss–both of them. I was deeply moved by your eloquent telling of your story, and of finding the goodness even in a sorrowful time.
Thank you, Naomi.
Reblogged this on Love in the Spaces and commented:
A year ago our friend Chris passed away at home, where his loving family cared for him. Grieving people are often told that the “first year is the worst,” and, less frequently, advised that people tend to be very solicitous of the grieving during that first year. The first year is awful, but is leavened by others’ support and presence. But please, if you know someone who is grieving–and who does not?–let them know that you continue to think of the person he or she loved, forever after that first year has passed.
So, so sorry. I mean it.
Thank you, Bruce.
It’s me! Betsy..Chris’s wife…I CANNOT even begin to tell you all how much this writing has meant to me and all my family. It is a work of art and will be FOREVAH grateful…just amazing …I must have read this a hundred times!
Betsy, Betsy, Betsy…..I forgot to ask you to be my Valentine! It’s been a crazy month….will have to fill you in now that I can, you know, walk without crutches. I am so glad you thought this worthy of Chris. We all miss him, too. ❤
I am at that point in life where things like this are happening to people that I know. Sharing your perspective of the events in your life has been a great help to me in processing my feelings and actions. Thank you, Stephanie.
Your photo is perfect—Blue skies, indeed, for Jim and Chris.
Thank you, Allan! I hope you’re having some abundant blue skies yourself.
We are, indeed, having some wonderful blue skies this month.
so beautiful Stephanie x
Oh, the heart in the sky just says everything about nothing and everything. ❤