When Bruce died 24 years ago, all I wanted to do was talk about him. I wanted to hear stories about him, tell stories about him, hear his name spoken over and over again, and yet no one in the days before the funeral felt that was appropriate. No one, that is, until a woman named Jodi called me to share a story.
Jodi and Bruce were to be in a play – a local theater production of a play I don’t remember now – and were in most of their scenes together. They’d become friends over the weeks of rehearsal and I remember Bruce speaking fondly of her and her husband and how he wanted to have them over for dinner once the baby was born.
The performance was scheduled for sometime at the end March. Carlene’s birth on a Friday didn’t interfere with play practice since it began in earnest the following Monday with practice every night. Bruce’s birthday was on that Monday and a snowstorm kept him from visiting us in the hospital 40 miles away. He called me in the hospital and said he was going to play practice and then called again when he got home. What I didn’t know was what happened in between.
Jodi said that Bruce had baked a cake and brought it and a Thermos of coffee with him to practice that night to celebrate his birthday and his daughter’s birth with the cast. It was a banana cake from a mix I’d bought a few months before and had forgotten about.
This story still makes me smile. It gave me an incredible insight into my husband’s mind at the time. I felt so abandoned when he died, asking over and over, Why hadn’t he seen the train coming? How could he have been so careless? How could he leave us like that? I was so angry at him and so very sad, but then Jodi called and told me Bruce baked a cake. She told me how happy he was and how proud he was of Carlene and me. She told me she could tell how much he loved us because everything about him glowed and was joyous. She called me because she thought I should know and because she wanted to talk about her friend.
I’m so very grateful to Jodi for telling me that story. She helped ease my pain and anger. She calmed my fears. Bruce didn’t die because he wanted to. He died a very happy man.
When people die, most of us don’t know what to say to the person or people most impacted by that death. Mostly we send cards and say, “I’m sorry,” but let me suggest that we tell the family or friends a story of the person who died. At the very least, say that person’s name out loud. Say, “I’m sorry _____ died” when addressing the grieving. Don’t think you’re being inappropriate. Death is silence enough. Speaking of the person who died helps keep his life real and his memory alive.
Trust me, there’s still nothing more comforting than hearing Bruce’s name and hearing stories of his life.