We mark time by passing it. We mark the hours as they pass, we mark the moments that pass us by. We note the places we pass through, and the stages of life. We know there are relationships that will last, and those that will pass. In the midst of the dark moments, we yearn for their passing. And when someone loved dies, we say that they have passed away from this world.
This week, our final week of school meetings and grading before the faculty are set free for summer, became a week of two passings. My husband’s grandfather – Papa – passed away unexpectedly last Sunday at the age of 84. Two days later Ray Bradbury – my favorite author – passed away at the age of 91. One of those men I’d known only a dozen years; the other I never met but always felt I knew well through his books – books my grandfather and father also loved deeply.
This week, we marked Papa’s passing with flowers and a funeral service that captured so well the essence of who he was, laying him to rest beside his first wife on a peaceful hillside in central Missouri. I can’t say I knew him well, but in the past decade as a member of his family, he was always the man we all loved and respected. He left his life perhaps the most appropriate way for him – sitting on a church pew Sunday morning. While no one in his family was ready for him to leave, everything I’ve heard this week suggests to me that he was ready to go, that everything was in order. And that, to me, is the way to go.
Ray Bradbury’s death was just as surprising to me. He’s been frozen in time on the back fly of so many of his books – I still picture him holding his cat and wearing that watch that must have been photographed sometime in the 1970s. I always thought he’d live well past 100, and hoped that along the way there would be new stories. It was hopeful thinking, of course, in the end. But why not? For a man who seemed to remember so much of his life, from even the earliest moments, I doubt a century was too much to ask. The stars, it seems, had other plans.
I thought this week would mark the end of the school year and the start of summer, but instead it’s felt overwhelming like endings than beginnings of any kind. Closings are like that, I suppose. Yet if death marks the ending of one life, perhaps what we feel most is that those of us remaining still move on. Where we once saw ourselves all moving forward together for the months and days to come, now we find we must move forward with something missing: we feel acutely the spaces where someone should have been at our side. We mourn for that loss, and we mourn for ourselves. We mourn because we know we will never be quite the same again, and because we know that now comes the hardest task: remaining.
Title quote from Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine