As I said in my last post, I’ve struggled with how to start this blog since it was created, and even before that with failed ideas for other blogs. The urge to write, however, is one thing that hasn’t been a struggle, as evidenced by note after note in my mobile phone’s note app. One such little “postling” waiting to be a grown-up post out there on its own was something I started after dealing with the loss of a great woman, one of my high school English teachers, Nancy Collier.
Dealing with death is never easy. Duh, you say, everyone knows that. But for much of my life I’ve had a phobic fear of the ceremony involved in noting the passing of a loved one, from viewing hours to the funeral to internment. Clowns scare me, spiders turn me into a senseless idiot, but the parade of death makes me want to lock myself in my closet until it’s all a distant memory, and then a month more for good measure.
Looking at the remains of someone – no matter how skilled the mortician’s staff, they will never look like the person they were – wigs me out. It was horrific the few times I either had to be there or made myself do it because of the importance of the person to me. I am still thoroughly convinced that my deceased great-uncle sat up in his coffin. I wasn’t a confused little kid at the time, so it wasn’t childish fancy. I can’t explain it, other than that grief does crazy things to a person, but it formed an even stronger sense of DO NOT WANT in me.
Still, as an adult, I began to accept that for as much as it sent me into a cold sweat, doing these things are both a strange gift to the family and to yourself.
Numbers matter when you’re the one standing in a funeral home thanking each person for their condolences. Those faces will blur together due to tears obscuring your vision. Those words will stop sounding like any recognizable language when you listen to them over and over. All that you’ll have left after will be a sentiment measured in how many bodies passed before you, a blur of faces and names bearing the simple message of the impact your loved one had on their life.
For the grieving queue, going through these motions is the first step to accepting that the ugly truth of never again is indeed your new reality.
Even now, I still find it hard to accept that there’s a never again where Nancy Collier is concerned, that cancer claimed her life just as she was preparing to head back to a job she had held for over twenty years. In that time, she had an impact on so many students, some I have knows and many I did not. Her funeral, held in the very high school she taught at, was one of the longest I’ve ever attended because so many stood up to tell those gathered their personal stories, all of them peppered with the things we all had in common. No one could care about you while telling you what a little swine you were quite like “Ma Collier”. Her love was of the tough kind at times, but there was no doubt to anyone that it was love, that even when she let out that infamous gasp! because of you, she had that indignant passion because she truly cared about the person you were meant to be.
I didn’t speak, because I am a failtastic public speaker, and I couldn’t picture myself stand up there when there were so many more still connected to her… and I hadn’t been. After she gave me a piece of wise, but at the time wholly unwanted by my teenage self, advice about a boy not being worth my time, we were never again as close as others were with her. As a teenager, I resented her intrusion into such a personal part of my life. I have a mother, I don’t need another one, I must have said to my own mother and friends numerous times. As I am today, I know she was right. Hearing all those stories of the woman she was to her students after their degree was in hand, my reality became one of never again and a missed chance, to have spoken to her one last time, to have possibly found a new relationship built on the foundation damaged by teenager righteousness and a strong opinion. Should’ve, would’ve, could’ve.
That personal difference never changed how she contributed to my life, though. From as early on as elementary, when the few of us in the gifted program would gather for our creative writing session, she saw and nurtured passion and talent for writing. That continued throughout high school, where I (nearly) always found delight in her classes and extracurricular education, challenges to rise to and be proud of when they were over come, rather than the pained boredom of a mind that went forever unstimulated.
Unlike some of those students that spoke at the funeral, I don’t have a wall of impressive degrees or hold a prestigious job. What I do have is a deep love of the written word, be it forgetting the world between the pages of a book or writing for myself. I write every day and have done so for years. I pray that the day I can’t write daily is far enough in the future that I don’t need to concern myself with it anytime soon.
My passion, always nurtured, will always be my small part of her sweeping legacy. And no matter what I do with that passion for writing, as long as I keep doing, Nancy Collier will always be a part of me.