“On the death of a friend, we should consider that the fates through confidence have devolved on us the task of a double living, that we have henceforth to fulfill the promise of our friend’s life also, in our own, to the world.”

–-- Thoreau

Do It Now

Earlier this week my wife and I learned that a good friend of ours had died of cancer. Although we’d known for a few months that she was ill, it was still a shock, as death always is.

She’d been in chemo for awhile, and an additional problem had recently shown up in her back. My wife came down the stairs to my office and said with tears in her eyes, “Suzanne died.” I hadn’t expected her illness to kill her. My wife had been the one with a premonition.

What could we do? Nothing. So we sat quietly, remembering her over the years. Then we made a little alter on a table and lit candles, put up a photograph of her under a lamp to help us recall happy times. This post is part of that, I suppose.

We last saw her just before Christmas. She and a friend came by for our annual holiday get-together with the two of them. As always we talked about her teaching — art history at a local community college. She was absolutely devoted to her vocation, to the stories behind the art and about the artists. She never got paid enough for the deep work she put into her presentations or for the special care she gave her students. She was as kind and gentle — as good — a person as anyone I’ve ever met. She had wanted to get a little farther in her life, to 70, when she could retire and travel, and have a few more adventures. She had more to do.

We exchanged presents that day. She gave us two big amaryllis bulbs. The pink one just came into full bloom last week. The pure white one is just starting.

There’s nothing new in this story, no special reflections on mortality. You live, you have an image of what you want to do or be before you die, and you may — or may not — get there.

A candle is burning. One day the flame will go out and then you are gone.

If there’s something you want to do, something that’s really important to you, I’d say do it now.


Dusk, Ebey’s Landing

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  • Dear Dan~

    In a way, this beautiful meditation doesn’t need any embellishments.

    But since I recently have been reflecting (and writing) about grieving (and how hesitant we are to talk about it – let alone experience it) I felt the need to say thank you for sharing this.

    For Suzanne I join in saying rest in peace, your struggle is over.

    But whatever the loss is (a loved one, a pet, a job, idealism, youth, physical mobility, a home, a country) we need to join in a community of remembrance, celebration and support.

    I remember when I first started studying Buddhism and learned about the noble truths – the first being that suffering is part of living. For a long time, I found many ways to resist that idea. Why must we all “suffer.” I found so many ways to try to reframe it.

    Many years later, I understand how profound that teaching is. And it’s the very embrace of impermanence that brings such poignancy and vibrancy to every moment of life. Not an easy teaching.

    And losing a friend is part of that. To you both, I offer my condolences.


  • Thank you so much, Louise. Your words are more than kind. A colleague once shared the thought that grief, experienced alone, is what is unendurable. It must be a shared emotion, a shared experience, if only from the standpoint of being an empathic witness and friend.

    You are very much that kind of friend.

    All the best

  • This is a beautiful testament to your friend and the friendship you shared. Thank you, Dan, for letting us share in it also.

    I love Louise Altman’s comment also. I don’t study Buddhism but I do have what I could call a Zen koan practice and yes, whatever arises. Whatever way we can welcome the lives that we have, become intimate with our lives …. it is all here, all part of it.

  • Thank you so much, Gina, for your kind and very supportive thoughts. Although I don’t engage in any Zen practice of any kind (except a little meditation once in awhile), I’ve always found a tiny drop of its water enough to refresh my world. I’m sure you know what I mean. There is that drop which gathers the mist for its brief lifetime on the tip of a leaf and then, at the right moment, falls away.

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