I read a book recently that talked about the Almost Gone. Who are they? They're people who have died yet are not forgotten in living memories. Not those famous people we all hear about has having Made A Difference or Discovered Something so are part of our cultural memory, but those people we actually knew - family, friends, teachers, enemies, etc.. As long as they live in our memory, they're not completely gone.
Last weekend would have been my parents' 60th Anniversary. It didn't feel right to let my father be on his own, so I decided to go home. He balked, saying it was a lot of driving and obviously there were other things for me to do, given the start of the school year. Tough. I was coming.
That first night, after dinner, we talked. He's gotten through the first eight months, but it's been difficult. Luckily he's had projects to complete, and many friends to spend time with (he says he's inherited a number of girlfriends, close friends of my mother who go for dinners, lunches and walks with him). But he's lonely. He's still at the house we moved into 50 years ago and while we've given away most of Mom's clothing everything else there is a reminder of her.
By the end of the second day, he admitted that having me around and going to museums and dinners and all that was distracting, and he was grateful. We both frequently mentioned her, as in "Mom and I loved this drive" or "Mom would never have let me wear that outfit". We partially planned the internment of her ashes and unveiling of her tombstone. I wrote about half of the thank you notes to people who had written to us and/or donated in her memory. In three weeks I'll be back because his best friend and colleague (died in early March) will be memorialized and my father will be speaking. It's going to be difficult for him to give that speech, and I won't let him give it alone.
I'm reminded of a speech given by a teacher at my high school, remembering the teacher who had inspired me many years ago. Jack was so memorable that decades later his students remembered him (I was friends with an older woman and one day I said something about my alma mater; she said she knew and loved a teacher there - imagine my shock and pleasure that it was Jack, in year one or two of his teaching career, at another school!), and he couldn't walk across campus without constantly being stopped to say hello and talk with students and colleagues. Yet a few years after Jack's retirement, on a visit back to campus, no one knew who he was, excepting those colleagues still teaching there. The speaker challenged the current students to think about their brief four years on campus and what impression they could make on the lives of their teachers and the other students: what legacy would they leave behind?
Both my mother and his friend are part of the Almost Gone. They live on in the memories of friends and family, and in my father's friends' case, in the students whose lives he touched. Their legacies are secure, for a while at least. What will people think when I'm Almost Gone? What will they think about you?