One of the things people criticize about Modern Society is our lack of community. People move far away from their families; they live in suburbs where they never get to know their neighbors; they lose the tight interconnected circles that used to bind us all together. That loss can also be perceived as freedom, and I’ve never personally minded it much… except when people die.
It’s so hard to know how to grieve when you lose someone who lived far away.
A week or so ago, a friend of mine in Midwestern City was struck by a car as she crossed the street. Badly injured, she fell into a coma, and last night she was taken off life support and died within minutes.
Usually in human communities we gather together at the time of a death; we bring food and drink and tell stories. We comfort each other, and we chip in to do whatever tasks need to be done. But here I am a thousand miles away from the people who knew my friend. Nobody in this city ever met her; there’s no one here to share memories with. It’s been a few years since I’ve seen her (I’m startled to realize how many; it didn’t feel like long), so that even if I were there, I wouldn’t know most of the friends she has now; the circle of friends we shared several years ago has itself divided and moved on.
I’ll call her Dancing Woman, because my favorite memory of her is from a goofy little Irish bar in Midwestern City. My brother was performing that night, and I joined him on stage to sing a few duets. We loved to do unbearably cheesy Everly Brothers kinds of songs (I sing a mean Everly Brother) and that night when we sang “Dream” (I can make you mine, taste your lips of wine, anytime night or day), I saw her dancing, eyes closed, huge silly smile on her face, swaying her hips in happy abandon to the music. It made me so happy, to see her enjoyment and to have inspired it.
Dancing Woman was one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever met; she could charm your socks off, but she was also tough as nails and took no shit from nobody. She was street smart more than book smart, though the streets weren’t always easy, and she struggled to make ends meet as a single mother. But she was always fierce and determined and strong, and she could always make you smile, and she was always ready to dance.
These are the kinds of things I wish I could share with her friends, in the kind of laughing-crying-drinking-singing wake she would have loved. But I’m here, and drinking and crying alone just isn’t as satisfying. All I could do last night was to walk out into the thunderstorm raging over our neighborhood, admire the turbulent sky, pour some wine into the rain as a libation, and silently wish her well.