We were walking along a beautiful treed path going from one building to another. I don't remember the city or state, but I do remember the small campus that was hosting the workshop I was presenting vividly. Equally I remember the woman I was walking with. She was animated and a quick talker. God save me from slow talking people. People who choose their words carefully and thoughtfully, people who say every syl - a- ble. Yike. Talk. Say what you have to say. She spoke quickly as if the words couldn't get out fast enough.
I had talked a bit in my presentation about how we mistakenly protect people with disabilities from life, from risk, from pain. She was telling me about a young man with a disability who had been disallowed from knowing about his father's death, attending the funeral, bringing flowers to the grave. The family thought that the death would 'upset' him. Um. Yeah. So his father was here one day, gone the next and no explanation given him for the disappearance, after a while he stopped asking.
She told me that she used to take her dog to the group home because all the guys there loved him. Tragically her dog was killed in a freak accident and she was terrified about bringing the subject of death into the home, frightened about how he'd react to the disappearance, would he suddenly figure it all out. But she decided that she would tell them all the truth. She arrived at the home, sat them down and told them about the accident and the dogs death. She cried as she told them, she cried a bit as she told me.
Feeling good that they'd been treated as adults and had an opportuntity to express their grief, she was then surprised at her next visit to the home. The young man, lied to by family, asked where her dog was. She sat him down and said, simply, "He died." He looked at her, eyes filling with tears and said, "He just keeps on doing that doesn't he?"
We laughed. A sad laugh. But we laughed.
The other day, I wrote of Janice in a group home singing her song. My best friend, Bob Clayton, worked in the home too. We had so much fun working shifts together and we fell in like with each other quickly. I would always check the shift lists to see if Bob's initials RRC were on the board on the same days that DH were there. I loved those shifts. So did the folks in the house. They liked all the laughter. We stayed friends even though he moved to Vancouver to take up a life there. I visited him regularly and talked frequently on the phone. I saw him slowly dying as AIDS began to claim him.
Even so I was unprepared for his death. Death, even expected, can never be prepared for. It hit me hard. All these years later, I still sometimes remember something that Bob said, something that we all did together, his bad choice in boyfriends, his great taste in decorating - all of it. Then it hits me, almost fresh, Bob's dead. "He just keeps doing that doesn't he", I now say to myself.
That young guy with a disability got it. Death isn't a singular event. It's repeated regularly when someone was loved.
What makes me truly smile is that Bob always wanted to be the subject of one of my stories. And I tell two Bob stories in my lectures and now he's visited my blog. This isn't morbid at all, because for the brief time that I write this, he lives again in my memory and in my heart. I'll have to say good bye again in a few minutes from now because he keeps dying, going away.
And until today I felt sad that that young man didn't understand loss.
Now I realize that he did, better than I.