A conversation w/ my (widowed) godfather

I’m terrified by and fascinated with the inevitability and permanence of death. Penn Jillette and Mark Twain make it look so easy. They cavalierly speak of death as if it’s no great concern. They spout sentiments like, “I wasn’t aware before I was born. I won’t be aware after I die.” Well, sure, fine. But that speaks nothing as to the transition or even the knowledge of the transition. And as we all know from Hitchcock, it’s far scarier to watch the passengers board the trolley car when you know there’s a bomb waiting for them.

My godmother, Bonnie Sweeney, died about three months ago. Other than a greeting phone call only weeks before her death, I was neither present for her dying nor her death. I’d seen it before, all of it, up close and personal, right in my face, so I felt no need to see it again. Does that make me a bad godson? Possibly.

Shortly after Bonnie’s death, I entertained the idea of chatting with my godfather for the obvious reasons. I wanted to see how he was doing, beyond the immediate, see what he was up to for the future. The thing was, though, that I didn’t want to step on his toes. I know from personal experience and observation how condescending it can appear to the bereaved when the non-bereaved chime in.

I left him a message. In it, I explicitly told him how he needn’t feel the obligation to call me back if he didn’t feel compelled. This was about him, after all, not me, well, not entirely. About a day later, he gave me a ring (or maybe it was later that day).


This is partly where the condescension arises. I half expected him to be in tears, despite the fact that the shock of Bonnie’s death almost assuredly would’ve worn off by now.

He sounded good. Very good in fact. We spoke of his current activities, like cleaning out the house, his work, his weekends, including Sunday visits to Bonnie’s grave, even his future plans, be they retirement or moving.

One big thing struck me about what was said. At some point, he kindly lamented the condescension of the non-bereaved.

“People tell me I shouldn’t mope too much, but I want to mope. She was the person I most loved in the world. Of course I’m gonna mope.”

Of course you are. I offered that none of us is comfortable with death and so, when faced with it, we all feel the need to wash it away.

The conversation lasted almost an hour, with more on his future, our feelings on bereavement, and so on. He let me know that his wedding anniversary is coming up. I gently offered that he may want to be extra careful with himself for that one. They tend to be a bit of a challenge.

Once we got off the phone, I reflected a while. Everything about Bonnie had been a permanent fixture in my life. Where she and my godfather had lived. Where she’d worked. Their annual holiday parties. Their kindness and joy. Obviously, not all of that died with her, really only the trivial things did, but I marveled at how I’d always taken so much of it for granted and in a blink it was now three-months gone.

The fact of death. The older I get, the more terrifying it becomes. And yet people like Bonnie and my godfather make it look so easy.

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