Sunday morning I sit at my desk trying to put into words what kind of kid Jack was. I am hoping to write something worthy enough to be read at his memorial service tomorrow. This desk is where I write my blog, recording the funny things the kids say and detailing my latest thrifty home projects, most of which involve spray paint. It’s been two and a half days since our lives were turned upside down, and I try to be inspiring, honest and positive when all I really want is to turn back the clock.
Beside me is Chris, my high school friend and college boyfriend. He has dropped everything, and with the blessing of his wife and three kids, has flown in from Wisconsin to be by our sides. “I’ll do anything,” he says. “Clean the gutters, take care of Shadow. Read at the funeral. Anything.” He has learned a lot about grief since his best friend dropped dead at 40. He has learned about showing up. So this is what he does, shows up and sits next to me as I try to describe my boy.
Chris and I were dating when my mom died. I had flown back to Virginia from attending a dance with him in Colorado, and the next day my mother died while I held her hand. I had to call Chris and tell him. When he said he’d fly home to be with me, I told him to stay to take part in a wedding where he was a groomsman. I said it, and I meant it, sort of. This was long before I had heard the term “passive-aggressive,” but on the day of the funeral, I really wish I’d asked him to be there. I didn’t know I’d need him, but I did. So now, even though we’ve seen each other only a handful of times in the past 20 years, he sits next to me, and I run different phrases by him.
After a while he says, “Um, Anna, I feel like you are glaring at me like I did something wrong and you want to murder me.” He’s treading lightly, but he’s brave and says it anyway. And he’s right. “I’m glaring because I’m so damn mad that Jack is dead! But I’m not mad at you.” And he’s cool with that, and calmly suggests that maybe I glare at a point on the wall slightly above his head from here on out, and we both know he’s the perfect person to be with me right now.
I get something down that captures a little slice of Jack’s home life, and hopefully gives comfort to those who will be at the service. I describe Jack’s interests, his homebody personality, his humor. I don’t know how to capture his humble nature, his generosity of spirit, his laughter, or the way his world became our world. Chris says, “I know you aren’t sure you can read this. And people will say you don’t have to, because they want to protect you. But I know you can do it and I think you should.” He’s right. I mean what the hell do I need protecting from at this point? I want to be the one speaking for Jack. I am his mother. So I will.
I look at Chris and think of the sacrifice he made just to show up for us. I don't know if I'd have the guts to do that for a friend separated by such time and distance. I think of his wife and kids who are juggling so many things at home so he can be here. I realize I have something to learn from Chris today.
And I inwardly make a note to myself to share with Margaret that it’s certainly a lot easier for exes to show up for each other in times of crisis if they’ve never slept together.