Sunday, May 19, 2013

In Memoriam

A few years ago I spoke at a friend's memorial service.  She was a coworker, a remarkable little woman, full of dark humor and fellow-feeling, a friend.  She was a spitfire named Jennifer Kuhn, and we all loved her.  I miss her still.  She had asked me to speak at her memorial and so I did, as did many others.  (She would have been glad, I like to think, to have seen such a crowd.)

After her memorial, our boss, the CEO of the company, a young man, then in rude good health, joking or not, asked me the same thing. "You have to promise to do that for me," he said, "if I die I want you to do the eulogy."  Other people said similar things to me that day.  Having lived in San Francisco in the Eighties, I have some experience of speaking at funerals.  It isn't something about which to brag, but people are kind, and one wants to say something after, I know.  I may have said it to someone myself.

When Bryan Pearce said it to me, I'm pretty sure it was a joke, or if it was sincere, I don't expect he would have remembered saying it, or thought much of saying it after.  As I've said, our boss was still a young man, and when he died recently, after an impossibly difficult illness that lasted nearly a year to the day from his original cancer diagnosis, it was not only a blow to us all, and a shock, but also frankly difficult to accept.  Death leaves a kind of chaos in it's wake, always.

I've just been to Bryan's memorial service.  He was an important figure in our industry.  His service was well attended.  A number of people spoke; colleagues with whom he worked closely, personal friends, and most movingly his wife and daughters.

I'm glad I went.  I did not know the man as they did, obviously.  I had some sense of who he was beyond our roles as employer and employee, though that had more to do with his friendly and generous nature than with any presumption on my part.  Bryan would have everyone a friend.

It is perhaps presumptuous of me now to say anything more in his memory.  I've already written something here to mark his passing.  Still, today I remember the promise I made him years ago and joking or not, I've kept it.

It wasn't my place to say anything at his service.  So I'll just say it here, that these few words might have some small comfort to those of us who miss him.  I can't think what else to do.

A poet* said, "I remember from your life," and that's right, it seems to me, that's just how it happens.  When someone dies, but even before that happens, we can never have the whole life of another person.  When someone dies, that is what we lose.  Some of us will have had more of him than others; those that knew him best, that loved him and were loved by him, they will have the most, and that's right, that that should be so.  The people he loved best, the woman he loved, the children they made, they will remember him best, they will have memories we won't.  They will need more.  They've lost more.

Those of us who worked most closely with him, those with whom he worked every day and for years, they will remember differently, but still, they will remember too.  They will remember what he did, all he tried to do, and why, and why it matters, still.  

The rest of us will remember from his life just as much as is ours; what we learned from his example, what he gave and taught us, what we owe him, the man he was when he was with us, all too briefly.

Even in the aggregate, our memories from his life, can not be what it means to be alive, to have him still here, with us, and that is why his loss is felt so, and will be.   That is what we mourn, what we can not have again.

Another poet, a very different poet, said:

Can I see another's woe,
And not be in sorrow too?
Can I see another's grief,
And not seek for kind relief?

That is why we come here today, seeking that "kind relief."  That is what the memories we have from his life, the memories we each have, large and small, together, we offer one another now.  It is what we do.  It is all we can do for one another now, just now.  William Blake, a great poet, wrote the lines I just read.  In that same poem, called "On Another's Sorrow," he also says:

Can I see a falling tear,
And not feel my sorrow's share?

My share is small, but it is mine.  My memories: of Bryan smiling in the morning from across the bookstore's lobby, of Bryan laughing at something I said to make him laugh when perhaps he ought not to have, my memories of his many kindnesses, his enthusiasm, his integrity, his decency, his sense, his example, these are mine.  That is my loss; my kind boss, the boss who danced with me, and laughed, and did good.  That is "my sorrow's share".  
It is, as I've said, a small thing.  I offer it today to those for whom this loss is irreparable.  Not that it can mean so much to them, as it does to me, but that, with all the others gathered here today, we may remember, together, as much as we can, today, so that we may remember today -- our losses, and his gifts -- as long as we live.

He was a good man.  Remember that.  It matters.  It matters more than he knew.  What he did, the good he did, matters.  That he was good, that he was a good man, that matters more.  Remember that even I, who only worked for him, someone who never knew him as you did, someone who by all rights he should not have liked, but weirdly, miraculously, eventually he did, remember that even I knew that.  He was a good man.  There are too few.  

That is what I will remember from him.  He was a good man.  I will miss him.

*Owen Dodson, "Poems for My Brother Kenneth"


  1. I came across your blog and I could not read this wonderful heartfelt tribute to my husband and not comment. Thank you so much for your beautiful and kind words. I hope that many more people make their way to your blog. Had I only known about the promise/request I would have had you included on the program...but honestly I am glad this is here for all to read. Thank you again for your kindness and taking the time to post this. Our girls and I truly appreciate it. Hugs to you....Lisa Pearce (Bryan's wife)

    1. Oh, my dear, dear woman. Thank you for your very kind comments. Means the world to me. Did you get a copy of the little book we made at UBS? If not, let me know and I'll see you do. Love always to you and yours.