Rite of Passage

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“It’s rare. It’s quick. It has no track record,” my friend Marcus told me from the St. Luke’s emergency room in Duluth, Minnesota, on August 15. We were supposed to have dinner the previous week. When I didn’t hear from him, I knew something was not right. So I called.

“It’s very aggressive, Steph. I’m not going to have chemo. It’s not an option. The cancer started from inside, with small polyps on the colon, and moved to the liver. My liver is full of tumors.”

By September 13 Marcus was dead. The last time I saw him, he was sitting like a Buddha on a sleeping pad under the Norway pines outside the log cabin he built in the woods. Marcus loved to push around boulders and trim Minnesota pines into Japanese bonsais to create a Zen garden where he could read and think. Eighteen years older than me, Marcus was a brilliant, liberal theologian who enjoyed a dissenting opinion as long as it didn’t have anything to do with telling him how to paddle a canoe or live his life.

A rugged guy, Marcus didn’t have many personal mementos. I have nothing tangible other than the photo below to remember him by—not even his memorial service. Marcus’s family and friends are scattered across the country. His only son lives in Boston, his mother lives in California, his sisters are from St. Paul, many of his friends live in Los Angeles and San Francisco, but his closest buddies were a cluster of doctors, construction workers, and woodsmen from northern Minnesota. He wanted the memorial service, which he planned himself the weeks before he died, to be held in the town near the cabin he loved and considered home. To give everyone time to gather, his son set the service for November 12. By then, I was gone.

I’m not sure what kind of closure I’m expecting from watching the mailed DVD of his memorial service, but I know that being absent from the real thing has been much harder than expected.

Missing the service makes me think about ritual. A synonym for the word funeral is “laying to rest,” which makes a lot of sense. Without that last communal goodbye, to share a laugh and a memory with people who loved Marcus, the world just moves on as if he didn’t exist. I guess that’s why I wrote this post—to use it as a place holder. It’s an attempt to let Marcus rest, but also to keep him alive.

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5 Responses to “Rite of Passage”


  1. 1 Carol Norton November 15, 2012 at 8:43 pm

    Beautiful. Thank you Stephanie.

  2. 4 Effie Fletcher December 3, 2013 at 5:43 pm

    This is very moving. At some point most of us will have an experience like this (sadly I have…) but most of it are not able to express it as beautifully as you have. Thank you for sharing this experience of your wonderful friend!


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