By Mickey Friedman
February 8, 2018
Perhaps because my beginning was so profoundly touched by death – the grave illness and death of my younger brother Jonathan before I was three – and the deep grief of my parents, I tried to stuff death out of sight in the furthest corner of my being.
While I concentrated on living, such denial made me a less than useful friend to my friend Lois, who faced breast cancer in her mid-thirties. I couldn’t imagine her gone until she was.
A decade later, the universe pummeled my resistance. My father died of heart failure, my friend Ñacuñán was murdered at Simon’s Rock and my two dearest friends, Sheila and Jim, succumbed to cancer within a year. There were suddenly too many black holes in my universe.
I was fortunate to find Doug Macdonald, who with patience and humor, guided me past my deep suspicion of therapy to acknowledge my pain and sadness and depression. He quickly familiarized himself with the many ways I avoided acknowledging what I really knew about myself, and with a knowing smile, made me blush at my awkward attempts to fudge things.
Of course, only by acknowledging the dark could I appreciate the light. Only by facing the challenges of my unique childhood could I live a fuller life. In all things to be more conscious.
I appreciate the poetic impulse to minimize death: yes, of course, we carry parts of those we lose with us. And yes, in our strongest moments, as Walt Whitman urges, we can embrace that process: “Nothing can happen more beautiful than death.” So I sincerely hope Whitman is predicting my end, but premature, unwished for death is unmitigated loss, not gain.
I am just one of many who have witnessed the most recent passing of so many among us. For me. there’s been a flurry of death. The untimely death of Kurt Kruger, my and Jon Greene’s coffee shop companion these last few years, came as he was mourning the loss of his friend and neighbor Scott Christianson.
Kurt was just about to put aside the great skills he had developed making beautiful things with wood, to go back to the classroom and finish his degree. He was a brilliant man and would have driven many a professor mad for being the smartest in the room while racking up A’s.
This is one of the oddest things about growing old: the undeserved death of those much younger. A kind of survivor’s guilt, that sense it should have been my turn.
My friend John Jones died a short while ago. We had known each other since the late 1960s. He had heard me on the late night radio show on WBAI pontificating about living and learning communities. Then joined our cult. He was an extraordinarily charming guy, so much older than his years, devilish at times, heartfelt at others. We drove across the country in Loretta, my Ford Falcon, and I never knew John wasn’t old enough to have a license. We came to our senses and left the cult and found ourselves living with Jim and Lois in Sheffield. Though we came from such different places, we shared a certain kind of madness. Somehow we thought that what Sheffield most needed was Eskimo Art. Most of the stuff never left their boxes but whenever we saw each other we could crack each other up remembering all those unsold Upiks.
We lost Derek Gentile and Ciaran McCabe, two men who made a large mark on life in Great Barrington. When I was more newsworthy, Derek would interview me for The Berkshire Eagle. I was stunned he’d never take notes. So I tried to speak slower and slower. And it was always an adventure to see the following morning how Derek had created answers for me that worked best for him. It was part of his charm, and seeing him on the street one of the benefits of living in a small town. And Ciaran always brought Irish wit and sophisticated story-telling to the table. His and Catherine’s children have enriched us all.
There’s the untimely death of Jes Grover, who I loved to see and chat with as she made soups and served us at the old Fuel. She fought her way through life with great spirit.
And for those of us who watched Lauren Pellegrino grow up at The Deli and play great basketball for Monument Mountain, our hearts break with the unbearable loss of Lauren’s wife, Kerry, and Grayson Luc, her 3 ½ year old son, Lauren, our Deli’s Family’s daughter.
The notice for services read: “Grayson … loved his teachers and classmates and looked forward to school every day … He was a kind little boy, whose life was rich and full, giving to others as much love as he received from those who knew him.
Some deaths are more cruel than others.