I love to write about my dad here because it is one of the ways that I keep his memory alive and focused in my everyday life. But it occurred to me last weekend that I have been remiss in my writing about my father because until now, I’ve been doing so without writing about his best friend, Alan.
Dad and Alan were like two mismatched peas in one pod. My dad was short and stocky; Alan was tall and thin. One Jewish, the other Norwegian. One bald, with dark wisps of curls; the other with a thick head of blonde hair. They loved to ski together, to eat spicy food together, ride motorcycles together, and raise their children adjacent to one another. And above all, they loved to compete in the art of racing to be the most frugal man of all time (You’ll have to wait to read A Real Emotional Girl to find out exactly how far they took this competition, but for now just take my word that it was spectacular, and also really embarrassing).
I thought about Alan a lot when my family was in town for my un-wedding weekend. My father should have been there. And Alan should have been there, too. As close as they were in life, so, too were they linked in death. They had each planned on the other being a surrogate husband and father to their families in the event of their premature death, but when those plans disintegrated, they decided to each write the other’s eulogies instead. My father fought his cancer for more than four years and Alan only three months. They died only six weeks apart.
Dad and Alan navigated the path to death hand in hand, and we were all transfixed by the compassionate nature of their friendship. Watching Dad and Alan connect as they moved toward death was crucial for the rest of us; we, their wives and children, have followed suit by wandering the dark alleys of grief forever linked by our long history together, the love of those absent in our lives, and by the unlikely parallels between our journeys. Alan’s wife, Susan, and my mom have been widows together these last eight years, and I am grateful that they have each other to lean on. But my mom is most definitely not the only one who benefits from Susan’s presence and kindness.
Susan came to Seattle for the first time two weeks ago, so that she could support me and love me as I trudged through those difficult days. I had so much fun showing her all the things I love about my city, but neither she nor I could help ourselves from wishing aloud to one another that Alan could be there with us. It was the kind of bittersweetness that haunts us in everything happy that we do; this is the burden and the blessing of grief.
The extraordinary circumstances of my father’s and Alan’s passing seemed so bizarre and yet so beautiful for a long time. And now I see that this is just how life works sometimes. It sucks that my family and Alan’s family—two women, six children–are all left without the two men who guided us through life. It just plain sucks. But there have been illuminations and benefits from walking these long roads side by side.
And above all else, the comfort I feel in knowing that Dad and Alan are together goes a long way. I don’t know where they are, but I know that they are together, and I know that they are proud of me. And that’s enough to get me through the day.