In the weeks that have past, my mind has kept up a proper intake of words from Toni Morrison and Tara Westover, the words of other writers, but none that wanted to come out of me.
I’m relearning, yet again that the path is never straight. And at the start of the week of June 3rd, last, four days before the end of school, a text came in to remind me. I picked up the vibrating phone from the coffee table around 10:30 p.m. and I read the words through sleep crushed eyes.
Then I reread them.
My brain rebooted.
I blinked. Hard.
However, the copy read the same; a mom friend of mine, my very first new Mom friend at Julia’s school had lost her husband to a sudden heart attack.
He was 55.
After a series texts, followed up by a midnight phone call, I finished up by sending a text stating that she should “Let me know if there’s anything I can do.” By that afternoon, around 1 p.m., Jackie identified something I could help her with:
“I’m sending you Noah’s obit, if you have time, please review it and get it back to me by 5 p.m.”
My girlfriend isn’t Jewish. Her husband was, which means, the funeral would be held, by tradition, the following day; forty-eight hours after Noah took his last breath.
I stared at the word doc icon attached to the email, as a deep rumbling fear, built and bounded up into my stomach. I feared clicking the doc open, afraid I’d make a difficult time for someone I cared for, even more laborious.
I texted a friend to ask what to do. “I’m sure Jackie would understand why you couldn’t do it,” she replied. So ,the real challenge was, could I forgive myself. Rising to this writing needed to be an act I could do for my friend during a supremely difficult time.
I clicked on, the word doc, I peered at the first paragraph, on my computer screen.
SCHEINFELD-Dr. Noah Simeon, 55, of New York City, passed away unexpectedly in his sleep on June 3rd, 2019. Beloved husband of Jacqueline Marie Didier. Devoted father to Maximilian and Thomas. Son of the late Ellen (Rothstein) and David Scheinfeld, brother to Joshua (Lizzie) and Moses (Rivka), as well as uncle to eleven nieces and nephews.
Then it hit me. The last real writing I’d done was for my mother’s obituary. Moreover, I would now reenter Obit Land. This work wasn’t just creative writing; this was service. Perhaps it could even be a little cathartic for me.
As the only writer in the group of five asked to review the details of a life, the value of making a narrative smooth, I sought a specific truth. As I read through Noah’s achievements, Harvard Medical, Yale Law school, Columbia U. undergrad, I could feel the pull of the words on the page, not the labor of them. I felt a strong need to put thought, ideas, details, in the proper place, in the appropriate order, at least what I considered proper to be.
One of my mom’s favorite quotes is, “Nothing beats a try.” So, for my friend, I tried my very best to make her husband’s obit sing off the page before they lowered his remains into the ground. As a deleted, transposed and crafted new words, I felt like an epaulette shark, a creature that is a not only a capable swimmer it can use its fins, during low tides, like legs. My writing legs hurt from the long stretch to reach the good.
Nothing in death is wasted, so says science; fallen trees become nourishment for new growth in the forest; mushrooms spring from invisible microbe; roadkill becomes a feast for neighboring birds of prey. It seems death is providing a compost foundation to get me back to the thing I so love, writing. Maybe it’s the call to help a friend that also calls me back to life, in a way.
“Get busy living or get busy dying,” Red, Morgan Freedman’s character in Shawshank Redemption, announces once he decided to find his way out in the real world, instead of ending his own life.
Maybe those are the words the dead whispering to me. And they’ve sent hints. A few weeks back, while watching Jane Pauley, the host of CBS This Morning, serve up a broadcast from Florence, I froze my tracks. Once I knew Florence intimately, every street, every café on both sides of the Arno River. Seeing my old friend, embraced by another, from the Pizza de Michelangelo, I wept small tears into my morning cappuccino.
“Mommy, what’s wrong, what’s wrong?” Julia asked, her little face full of concern.
I miss my friend.
“What friend, Mommy?