my dead friends
by marie howe
I have begun
when i’m weary and can’t decide an answer to a
to ask my dead friends for their opinion
and the answer is often immediate and clear.
Should i take the job? Move to the city? Should i try to
conceive a child
in my middle age?
They stand in unison shaking their heads and smiling-
to joy, they always answer,
to more life and less worry. I look into the vase where
Billy’s ashes were-
it’s green in there, a green vase,
and I ask Billy if I should return the difficult phone call,
and he says, yes.
Billy’s already gone through the frightening door,
whatever he says, I’ll do.
i heard this poem read by the author, on NPR back in the spring and, of course, it spoke to me, as anyone who has dead friends would feel, i’m sure. it is easy, sometimes, to focus on just feeling sad and missing someone, and, god knows, there is plenty of time for all of that. it is happier, though, to think of the dead people we love, at some kind of peace, telling us not to look into the rear view mirror, urging us to enjoy this short life, whatever it is. i guess that’s why people like the idea of heaven. a place of paradise where your friends and relatives are all together, looking down on you, watching over you. then it’s not so lonely down here.
jake, you are one of my dead friends. i like to think of you smoking a cigarette, wearing something black and fashionable, probably with metal buckles and things, i dunno, with those crazy eyebrows of yours saying something cutting and clever, pretending, like you were so good at, not to have a care in the world. but you are dead now. there’s nothing left to lose, so your eyes would soften then, and you would tell the truth. “keep your eyes out the windshield,” you might say. or, “whatever leads to joy.” yes. i think you would say that.
wherever you are, you are missed. maybe you’re not in heaven. maybe you’re nowhere. and if that’s the truth, and there is nothing left when a person dies, so be it. but you are alive in ways you might not know. in people’s heads, as a memory. we each carry around our own version of you, giving your signature smirk or your impassive face. in people’s hearts, as a deep hurt, for what you did, what you went through. but also as a reminder. of many things. not to let things ever reach that point, a deeper understanding of the finality of death, of how quickly it can change the landscape of so many people’s lives, and, more importantly, of all of the life and joys you are now missing. you sit on our shoulders and gently point the way. and we are listening, jake, because you have already gone through the frightening door, so whatever you say, we’ll do.
i never listen to this song as it makes me too sad, but thinking of you, here it is.