When, in January, Tom told us of his cancer diagnosis and its dreadful prognosis, a familiar grief moved in, pulled up a chair and became a fixture of every waking minute. After a few weeks, I tried a new tactic for dealing with the rage and sorrow. I tried to welcome it. What if, I said to my girlfriend, what if culturally and spiritually we were able to rejoice in this news. What if we could say, boy oh boy! You’re so lucky! Congratulations, you have a brilliant cancer, ring out the happy, happy bells! My girlfriend looked at me from over the top of her glasses, as she often does, with a raised eyebrow and a small shake of her head. Nonetheless, I tried a whole day of this thinking, of trying to loosen the strangling hands, and of course it was ridiculous.
When a tragedy unfolds in front of us, again, the outrage, the fear, the stupefying grief crashes back through the bolted door, grinning, rubbing its hands. Remember me? it sneers. I’ve been waiting, it says. I’m so patient, it says. Fuck off, I say, quietly, but I’ve already thrown in the towel.
There is something that happens in the immediate moments following the knowledge of a death, some extraordinary intensity of emotion, some sparkling, luminous rarity of emotion which feels as though it has been conjured from solar winds, from the edge of the universe, so raw and wild and vast it is. It feels as though in those moments, those hours and days after the transition has been made, when the life has moved out of the body, or is it that the body can no longer hold the life? in those extraordinary hours a contradiction becomes overwhelming: that never, ever has that person been held so close, been felt so deeply, known so truthfully – yet somehow they have flown further away than any star, any galaxy. It feels as though the sheer power of our collective howl, the primal, animal force of our love should be strong enough to do what the body cannot: to bring him back. To keep him safe. To keep him.
Tom made every room brighter. He loved generously and deeply. To have his arm around your shoulder was to feel sparkly and delightful and mischievous.
If there is any sort of peace to be felt, is it by somehow finding a way of loving death? By knowing there really is no enemy, there are no monsters, there are no cruel Gods, no cosmic conspiracy? Well, if there is, I am not there, not yet, not anywhere close. A disease which hurts the body and soul so profoundly, which hurts so many so profoundly, is not a thing I can love. What -and all – I can do is love those who are hurting the most; to try to fix, bit by bit, the raft upon which we all float, bewildered, through this inexplicable life.