I walk numbly to the river, eyelids swollen, in the hopes of clearing my mind. I want to sit there in the quiet and write a fitting tribute to you, but all I can do is crawl into the water and cry.
I start talking to you. I thank you for everything that you meant to me, though you may never have known it, and the impact you made on all of us. I speak out loud, the best way I know of getting what’s inside of me out into the world, however messy. It doesn’t matter if I sound crazy. Nothing feels like it matters much in the face of this jarring reality.
I speak of my instantaneous anger at the injustice of life when I found out that you, always the best amongst us, were sick. I tell you how much I regret never expressing everything that you meant to me while you were here, not showing more courage in reaching out.
I confide my feelings of unworthiness. Who am I to feel such sadness at this news? Someone who hadn’t seen you in years, hadn’t spoken to you in months. I tell you that even though we were no longer close in a traditional way, you never ceased to be an inspiration in my life. An example of the kind of person I want to be.
I whisper something that I never told you: you gave me hope during a difficult period of my life, a time when I was lost, depressed, and confused. You showed me the potential of what a man can be. What a partner can be. I looked to you and your wife over the years as an inspiring example. Not a perfect relationship, but a beautifully human relationship. Two people who loved each other beyond understanding, in my limited scope of experience. An example that stared me in the face and brought me back into hope during the many instances when I doubted that there was such love in this world.
I tell you that I don’t think any of us believed this could actually happen, not to you. You were the strong, paternal figure for the rest of us whenever we felt weak. You were the support and compass for so many of your friends. Always smiling, always ready with a huge bear hug, a wise word, and a kind reminder of our worth.
You reminded me of my worth 10 years before I understood that I didn’t actually see it in myself.
I feel idiotic, naïve now to have assumed that because you were always a rock for the rest of us, you had to get through this somehow. I know that’s not how it actually works. I suppose I was in denial that something like this could happen to someone who embraced life as joyously as yourself.
You were not a perfect human—that’s not what I’m saying. But you were the best example of a person who moves through this world with grace and kindness, positively impacting everyone he meets. You were a delight and an inspiration. An unforgettable soul.
I tell you everything that felt inappropriate, or weird, or not my place to say when you were still here. I wish I had let go of those silly limitations now. I wish I had told you that you made an indelible impact, and that your friendship will always be one of life’s greatest gifts to me. I wish that I had told you what a difference it made to have your example of a good, kind man when I felt like all men must surely be shit. With your existence right there in front of me, I couldn’t actually believe that to be true.
I wish I had told you that your relationship with your wife gave me hope repeatedly through the years when I was struggling in my own romantic partnerships. It always reminded me that there is more out there, and that it’s possible for me to have it.
I tell you that you were and always will be so incredibly loved. You were the best husband, father, friend, and co-worker I’ve ever known. You are an inspiration to me for how I would like to live my life, for the impact and legacy I want to leave. You are so much heart and light and joy, and I only wish I had said all this to you when you were in the physical form to receive it.
But I know that you hear me now. I know that you see the outpouring of love for you, your family, and your children. I know that you understand your memory will never leave us. The way that you lived is the greatest legacy anyone could ever create. Thank you for your shining example of what it means to live well, and fully, and in big love.