Leave it to a group of poets to create the best memorial (celebration of life) I have ever been to. The last funeral I went to, I got the giggles so badly, because the whole thing seemed so absurd. A pastor who barely knew the deceased read off a list of things he had been told by her family. There was nothing connecting me to the memory of the person I once knew.
But yesterday was different. Way different.
I wrote several weeks ago that my mentor, teacher, and friend, Steve Kowit, had unexpectedly died.
Yesterday a group of his students, that I have been studying poetry with for two years, gathered in the home of one of our fellow students. We sat around in a circle in the living room. There was coffee, homemade brownies, a variety of nuts, and bottled water.
We talked about our future as a group. We talked about how to proceed without our beloved Steve. We decided to meet as before, on the last Sunday of the month, and work our way through a poetry workshop book that Steve wrote called, In the Palm of Your Hand. We decided to take turns facilitating the group. We all agreed no one could step into the shoes of Steve.
After we had taken care of business, we started talking. It happened naturally. One person told a story about Steve, about the suspenders he always wore, about how he used to ask us to raise our hands if we didn’t understand the poem we just heard, about how he used to force snacks on us.
The stories continued. People brought out poems and we went around the circle, and most people read a poem or two that they had written about him since his passing. I cried so hard, that tissues were handed to me in every direction. Most people cried. I found it the hardest to keep my tears under control when the men cried. All of our hearts were breaking.
Then someone would say something and we would laugh, from the deepest parts of ourselves.
We sat that way for three hours telling stories about “Our Steve” about a man who had made such an impact in all of our lives. We laughed and cried together. We shared our grief, our heartache, our sorrow. We shared our incredible loss. We shared our love.
And we bonded. And we healed. And we found a way to go on, a way that would have made Steve happy. In fact, the whole gathering would have made him happy. We talked about the man. The real man, as we all knew him and loved him.
We honored his memory in our togetherness, in our laughter and in our tears.
Leave it to a group of poets to make me feel every high and every low for three straight hours and want to see them all again as quickly as possible, because they hold the magic of memory and healing in their words.
It’s not good-bye. We will still have his words to guide us maybe we will even leave the chair at the head of the table open, so he can join us as we critique our art in the way he taught us, with laughter and love.