My week in Rochester was a tough one. Closer to home, and finally beginning to fully understand how very much I did not want this adventure to end, I faltered. It was hot and muggy, and I was staying in a student apartment that lacked any sense of home but had a great goofy Husky named Milo, who distracted me from feeling too morose. I wrote the rest of this post while I was in Rochester, in between wandering through Mount Hope Cemetery, visiting the Parks-Lamberton Conservatory, waiting patiently for Milo to recover from his sudden need for a power nap in the middle of any sidewalk at any time as we made our way through the nearby historic district. I also made time to visit the George Eastman Museum, which was one of the highlights of my stay there.
I'm sitting in a small apartment in Rochester, NY, listening to the rain pour down as I follow, online, my friends in their painful traverse of the final hours of the life of Clancy, their beloved father's dog. The upstairs neighbors are throwing a party, laughing and stomping their feet. I want to yell at them to stop, but instead, I am watching a lady make risotto on TV, still checking my phone every few minutes.
Clancy was a pup when my friends' father passed away, a living legacy for these many years. Clancy is dying now, and they have made the impossibly difficult choice to let him go. This dog is more widely loved than any dog I know, because of the ferocious love of his four human sisters. They have made him the center of their world. Clancy has helped them to heal; now that he is going, it is brutally hard.
In the midst of this, I learn that my dear friend's husband has died after a sudden, unexpected illness. I was lucky to spend time with this gentle, gracious, intelligent, humorous, absolute gentleman early in my trip and I simply cannot fathom the world without him. If you multiply the effect he had on me by thousands of light years, you will still never get close to how important he is to his family.
I am in tears over the loss of two souls who are deeply loved by those I deeply love, and who I had the good fortune to know also. This is the flip side of being connected, that there is always a loss, eventually. I'm grappling with what to say and how to say it. I'm not ready, nor prepared to face any of it, but that's not how any of this works anyway, in my experience.
I keep coming back to my own father's death nearly 30 years ago, remembering some of his writing, which my uncle later had printed and sent on to people he was grateful to as a sort of benediction for many years. They are the same words I read at my high school baccalaureate, and for some strange reason, left safe at home on this adventure; I have always had them with me until now. When I need them more than ever, I am on my own.
When I left on this trip, I experienced an excruciating sense of loss over several weeks, not just after I left, but for days and days before. My completely rote, safe life, my small group of treasured friends, my family, my beloved dogs - I was leaving everything behind for some barely articulated need to just get the hell out of where I was. I searched for help all over the internet and tried to express what I was going through, but there is no help for "loss caused by a positive choice."
I have weathered losses quietly over these long months, relying on quiet conversations with close friends, reading and listening to books, spending hours and thousands of miles driving toward the horizon with only my thoughts spinning around. I have made very little art outside of photographs, shared less of what has hurt, and more of what has been the adventure that so many people are longing for. But, and there is always a but, there has been sadness, loss, and now, profound grief.
Some things are coming full circle here. The girls upstairs whoop and stomp on the floor, laughing through a chorus of some pop song. I watch a giant catfish swim across the TV. I think about daybreak and those moments that become defining before-and-after's. I met two beautiful souls, a man and a dog, who changed me for the better. I will honor their memories by always stopping to smell the roses, and by living my life with integrity. It's what they taught me, each in their own way, and I'm deeply grateful for the lessons.