“A slow section of a pas de deux in which the dancers perform steps requiring great skill in lifting, balancing, and turning.”

A lot of people I know are grieving. I find myself wondering, is this ever NOT true? Lately, death feels like a constant, heavy drumbeat. Today many of us said farewell to Maya Angelou. And as is often the case, most of our farewells were made after she’d left us. But we still need to say them.

I wrote the bulk of this post almost exactly four years ago. It feels as true as it’s ever been.

Last Friday, my extended family buried my cousin Rich. He died suddenly on May 18 at age 62. It still feels so weird to say. Like I should be talking about someone else. With Rich’s brilliant wit, booming laugh, encyclopedic mind, deep personal loyalty, and generous heart, my oldest cousin on my dad’s side enriched every life he touched. He was aptly named.

I’m not one who cares for that whole “He is in a better place” stuff. For me, the “better place” idea is one of the many theoretically helpful things people say to console someone else, or themselves. I know it’s usually well-intentioned, but I’d rather just have someone stand next to me and say nothing, or say, “This sucks.” Or, “I’m so sorry.” Or, “There are no words, so I’m not going to say anything. I’m just going to stand here with you and breathe.”

Living on after losing a loved one feels to me like trying to dance with a missing partner. Like the title of this post, which is a definition for the word adagio, being left behind by death is slow, painfully slow, and it demands great skill and strength.

While nobody knows what comes after death for the ones who leave us, I do believe that on our side of things, it’s still possible to tend to an evolving relationship with a dead person. We survivors have to invent new moves, new words, new ears for listening more deeply than we’ve ever had to listen before. In my experience, the relationship doesn’t die with the person, but the change is so mind-boggling and heart-shattering, it can feel like the relationship is also dead.

For anyone else out there who is mourning, trying to figure out the new steps to this strange dance of loving someone who is no longer here, here’s a little poetic offering for you, one of my many attempts over the years to cobble together some shards of meaning out of incomprehensible loss. Linda, Frankie, Ann, Nancy, your families, and Rich’s enormous community of extended family and friends, this is especially for you, for us.

Adagio

For J

In a last spinning step
you glided through the door that is no door.
The remaining steps – the ones we do without you –
follow the rhythms of
“I remember when…”
or
“Once when he…”
or
“Before…”

It is good, the dance of remembering,
and we practice it momently.
We use intricate moves to step through sorrow,
broader steps to trace a bad pun.

This movement between your world and ours
now demands a syncopation that is new to us.
Sometimes we improvise, with dipping and twirling.
Sometimes we take comfort in a set pattern
of predictable movement.
Often the dance is hard.
We forget our steps, or we don’t know them at all.
We bump into each other.
We are afraid to lead, or too stuck to follow.

Still, somehow, there is grace in our clumsiness.
Ours is an awkward grace of heavy feet
moving by the sheer force of will.
We are down one partner now,
but we dance our memories into the future as best we can.

We dance.
We must keep moving.

© Joy Howard, 1993/2010

Lyrics for Lord Huron’s “The Man Who Lives Forever”

I said we’re all gonna die but I’ll never believe it
I love this world and I don’t wanna leave it
Said that death is a deal that you cannot refuse
But I love you girl and I don’t wanna lose you

Don’t want a long ride
I don’t wanna die at all
I wanna be the man who lives forever
I ain’t never gonna die and I want you to come

I said life is a tale, it begins and it ends
And forever’s a word that we can’t understand
Well I know that my life’s better when we’re together
So why can’t our story just go on forever?

Don’t want a long ride
I don’t wanna die at all
I wanna be the man who lives forever
I ain’t never gonna die and I want you to come

I said life without end wouldn’t have any meaning
The journey to death is the point of our being
Well the point of my life is to be with you babe
But there ain’t enough time in the life that they gave me

I said we’re all gonna die but I’ll never believe it
I love this world and I don’t wanna leave it
Said that death is a deal that you cannot refuse
But I love you girl and I don’t wanna lose you

I wanna be the man who lives forever

And all those days and all those nights

Together forever, forever alive

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4 responses to ““A slow section of a pas de deux in which the dancers perform steps requiring great skill in lifting, balancing, and turning.”

  1. Thank you, Joy. You have such insight and such a great way of expressing yourself. What a blessing you are to all who know you and love you.

  2. This updating of “Adagio” to include our late beloved Rich Stewart warms my heart and soul.My guilt for not connecting with him more intentionally through the years is muted by the deep joy he brought to me and others over his bounteous life of just being his precious self. His life lives on in all of us, through his stories, his stories, his achievements, and his cares. Thanks, Joy, for reminding me once more of the sacred down-to-earthness of our years!

  3. Thanks Joy, as ever. There’s been a lot of grieving going on in my family with my sister’s recent death. The pas de deux fits. My brother and I feel like we lost the third part of our mobile; our balance is off. She was on the planet when we got here.And now? We lurch back and forth, up and down trying to get equilibrium again. The lurching feels good because it is, at least a hope that balance will come;

  4. Thanks, Joy. I will keep this forever and read it often because I feel the healing powers of the words and love your fond description of my dear Rich.

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