Last Tuesday, I woke up early, stumbled downstairs, made coffee, and sat down at the computer to check Facebook. My friend Tony had been battling colon cancer, and his wife, Alex, had posted the day before that he was going in for surgery to try to control some bleeding, and that prayers would be appreciated. He’d been undergoing chemo, which is a nasty business with unpleasant but treatable side effects, so things like this didn’t seem unduly worrisome, at least at a distance. But then I saw the update: “Tony Ryan and his family would like us all to gather in prayer for his journey home to our Father.” I just sat there, staring, and then frantically started checking other friends’ pages for more information. It didn’t take long. Tony had died early that morning, and the expressions of shock, support, grief, and loss were soon almost overwhelming. We began reaching out, holding on to one another in our sorrow and disbelief.
As many as could arrange it made it to the visitation that Sunday. We’d all aged, some of us more than others, but we recognized one another in brief moments of joy that dissolved into tears. It’s good to see you, we’d say, but there’s nothing good about this. And we’d hold onto each other, and ask, in full knowledge it was a stupid question, how’s Alex doing? There’s no good answer to that, really, where real love is. “Terrible” is the only truthful one.
So we stood in line to express our sorrow to Alex and the rest of Tony’s family. We huddled in small stunned groups, exchanging banal observations. We hugged, talked, told stories, and cried. We tried not to think too much about the future.
My family and I had to leave before any of the music started, but we knew it would be amazing. Tony was the high tenor on so many of our choir performances, and we could always pick him out on our recordings. Alex is a brilliant pianist and singer, and many of us who’d made it to the visitation were in choirs and shows together. So there would be singing, with one voice absent above all others. But he would never forgive us if we didn’t sing.
I’m sorry I wasn’t there to join the singing that evening, or the next day at the funeral, but I’m not sure I’d have made it through without breaking down. But poetry can be written through tears. So I give you this, in the hopes it expresses something of what we all feel when someone so full of life and love dies far too soon.