I woke up this morning thinking about how loss changes with age in many ways. What was once unthinkable for a young person has become acceptable; the levels in between are interesting progressions from one end of the spectrum to the other. This is triggered by the news of Clarence Clemons passing away last evening, after a very serious stroke knocked him down one last time. The sense of loss was different from losing Danny or even my brother Sam. I think it is because of my own aging and actually having been in the process of grieving in the past 6 years or so.
I’m gonna elaborate a little on the first idea. As a child the thought of a friend or a relative being gone forever starts off as not even a possibility. You have forever and they are ten feet tall and bulletproof. As feelings and emotions develop the concept intensifies. Not only for those close to you but the odd connection to celebrity, an emotional closeness created by media or art. People are very different in how they process and carry these losses, bearing them like full-sized monuments tied to their backs or stuffing the grief inside, the venom oozing out of the person in other forms. This is not to say that the loss of a child, a sibling, a parent, a spouse is not a major and consuming thing; it can alter your whole life with or without some proper handling.
I often wondered what else people are grieving when they become immobilized by the loss of a celebrity or an outright stranger, their only connection through the TV or media outlet. I tend to vacillate between thinking I am partially sociopathic or they are drama hungry, feeding on the sadness like the thirsty drinking tears. Could the bond created by a single song or a repeated sequence of still photos from a tabloid news show make an authentic connection or does it represent something else? Marilyn Monroe,Elvis, John Lennon, Princess Di… they were big but became bigger with the death cults, martyrs for something missing in everyone’s everyday life. Better to focus on that than 100,000 unseen victims in a far off war or a second cousin withering away in a hospital room. The fear of being close to it, like you could catch it, easier to manage with the patron saints and their merchandise.
As I approach 50 rapidly, the emails come more often and find myself thinking of Facebook as “Deathbook”, the speed and frequency of the obits increasing. I visit my parents and older relatives, hear stories of being sick for months, see the oxygen tanks, the slowing down. For those who suffer, often for a long time, the end is actually leaning more towards welcome than not. When I began working with the ESB in 2002, Clarence had physical ailments which required him to prepare mentally, physically and spiritually before every show. His knees, his hips, his back, they were all a mess. He was in pain so much of the time. The toll on that massive frame radiated off of him. It didn’t get any easier between then and the last-go-round. You could see that pain in his big beautiful eyes but very little would slip ungrateful from his lip in front of us. He was an incredible example of love and spirit persisting when the body had no business carrying on.
So, I guess this little post is about the path between denial and acceptance. Beginning with death not existing and ending with it being the only conclusion, the act of growing up and letting go of these temporal temporary bodies, it always has been what we made of the time between the beginning and the end. In the Middle Ages, Sunday was put aside for church and the idea that things would be better in the afterlife, because life was so hard for so many. Many philosophies focus on being in the moment, the act of finding “heaven on earth”. As a pretty typical human being shifting between the selfish “woe-is-me” headspace and the slivered moments of Eden found in a flower pushing through the concrete, time lately has been on my side.
I don’t want my friends to go but they’re gonna. I don’t want anyone to truly suffer but some will. Some defy the odds and others are struck down by space debris. Nobody gets out of here alive.
The lessons that those who have gone before left us are still here, good and bad. It’s our job to share them, keep the memories alive and hope that someone else gains something from these people who no longer walk the earth. Lessons about passion and sharing, selfishness and self-destruction, creating and destroying. Like road signs or myths, they can guide another generation to choose between doing something while they’re here or rushing headlong into the abyss, dragging the innocent along with them.
After the last breath, it’s up to those remaining to let go. What we let go of, well, is up to us. I hope that those who suffered in life are released once they cross the threshold. Perhaps the thought of that can give us peace even if we’re not in the Middle Ages. Perhaps we can find the grace to live a better life by holding the memory of our fallen Blood Brothers close to our hearts.