July 8, 2018
As a lawyer and journalist, I’ve drafted thousands of essays. None of them ever made me cry, until I wrote and delivered the eulogy for my best friend.
When his family made the request, I was still struggling to accept his untimely death. But I felt I could tell his story as well as anyone. I didn’t foresee that a more important story would be told to me. As I grappled with my remarks, I realized how much more than a friend he had been. He’d witnessed the most poignant moments of my life, and I his.
I turned to a Pulitzer prize winning book for inspiration. “In The Year of Magical Thinking,” author Joan Didion studied the grief spawned by her husband’s death. She wrote, “I could not count the times … when something would come up that I needed to tell him. This impulse did not end with his death. What ended was the possibility of a response.”
She had captured my feelings with aching precision. Although my friend and I had been in contact daily, there was now much more I needed to tell him. Things I should have said before, like I loved him and how important he had been to me over a half-century. The words burned like embers on my tongue. It was too late.
A survivor of life-threatening cancer, he quietly made recompense by driving for Meals on Wheels and ringing the bell for the Salvation Army.
After my brain surgery, we walked the beach while I complained of my physical impairments, which were trivial compared to his.
One day he suggested to me, in an awfully gentle way, that I focus on other people instead of myself. He was right and I vowed to take his advice. However, the suddenness of his passing showed me how little time I had.
My friend’s death taught me a painful lesson. The decline of our generation has quickened. We who brazenly conquered the moon now retreat in droves like shadows into a moonless night. We who embraced the mysteries of the New Age now accept that our secrets will soon die when there are none of us left to share them.
But my friend’s great kindness also reminded me that our journey has been glorious as well as transient. A verse by Ernest Dowson came to mind: “They are not long, the days of wine and roses. Out of a misty dream our path emerges for a while, then closes within a dream.”
My friend’s dream was to leave the world a better place. In his eulogy, I encouraged the congregation to carry on his quest, but tears overcame me in the final line:
So long old friend. You made me want to be a better man.