Almost four years ago, I met Carleton Cannon. For six months, his profile seemed to always stop me as I perused profiles on a website I perused. Then, he changed a picture in his profile, and after months of simply perusing his profile and continuing on, this time, I left a message mentioning that I liked this new photo. Of course, just a comment of notice, since he was not in an age bracket I was willing to consider for a date.
His response? “Well, I was wondering what would get you to respond after checking my profile for so many months.” Honestly, I had not been aware that at that time, when you visited a profile, the person was able to learn of the visit. Yet, neither of us had been willing to initiate a conversation before that picture change. Me, because of the difference in age. Him, because he thought I was out of his league.
Shortly after that quick conversation, we determined to meet. It was on a Monday, in October on perhaps one of the few days we had a torrential downpour. He showed up at the door drenched to the bone. After drying him off, and warming him up, we visited for several hours. It was a nice enough visit.
On a second date, we decided on watching a movie. And, since he had not introduced me to his kind of movies, I thought I could introduce some of mine. And, what better genre than a Musical. And, at the time, Netflix just happened to deliver one to my door. With trepidation and boredom looming in his face, I introduced Carleton to Ethel Merman and Donald O’Connor in “Call Me Madam”. Simply to evaluate the ability to enjoy the interests of another person.
Ethel Merman changed Carleton’s opinion of a musical. Ethel had not even completed her first show tune before Carleton was up mimicking her moves as she sang “Hostess with the Most-est”. While we lived together, Carleton certainly worked at being the Hostess with the Most-est for our friends. I did not realize how perfect that song would fit him. Nor, that now it would be linked to him so permanently. I find that I relate and share stories of family, friends, and community through songs I hear. And, with a father who could recall and sing nearly any song ever performed in a musical, let’s just say I have a great amount of recall.
The day after Carleton died, the song that struck me that he was gone, was being sung as I walked through the hallway. For some reason, “Les Miserables” was playing on Youtube, and as I prepared to walk outside to meet a friend for lunch, “a little fall of rain” began. And, within a moment, I was on my knees, sobbing, completely understanding the loneliness, the need for safety, and the depth of understanding that death follows life, but while it is natural, it can come suddenly and at great cost to those who love.
As I near, and fear, the anniversary of losing Carleton, which is August 20th, it becomes a year without seeing his smile, hearing his words of love and affection, or worry about his health, I hope for a happier next year.
This year was rough. As I look back on it, I cannot truly yet appreciate how exhausted I was. Only recently, have I begun to realize there were times I must have been completely scattered, emotionally disjointed, and quite nearly insane. Yet, were it not for those who came into my life, who stayed in my life, and for those who watched my life and checked in, I might be in a different place – a much scarier place. I know I am greatly loved. I have nearly recovered my creativity and energy. And unlike the months following Carleton’s passing, grief, sorrow, and loneliness do not visit en masse to torment, overwhelm and harm. Grief and sorrow still visit to test me. Tears still flow for moments when some memory stops to replay. The visits from Grief now are more a reminder that I still live and can love rather than visits that felt more tortuous and painful.
Carleton’s passing, while still fresh, has joined the many I have cared for and watched die too soon. It seems, the vast amount of loss I have experienced in my life had prepared me for this very private and costly loss. For, I believe Grief comes to unhinge us but can leave us stronger as people to face and comfort those who will be visited by her soon.
When Grief visits to remind me that Carleton is gone, she no longer overpowers me, causing me to crumble or cave. Moments of torrential tears can still visit when something reminds me of Carleton. Yet, there are still tears for those I have lost like my best friend, Doug, who died in 1996. Or Michael, or Cesario in 1992 and 1993. There are stories I tell and people I come across who cause me to think of Carleton. And, there are songs which will always allow him to visit me. What I know is that Grief no longer paralyzes me or makes me not want to feel. While I have known at least 71 people who have now died of AIDS related disease, I can now brace for the next phone call. And, Carleton has joined a larger family that simply waits for some day when I will leave this plane of existence.
And, fortunately for me, my friends, who did not know what to do, have simply waited for me to return to a new normal they can access. And, those who simply knew to love, did. The last few years were daunting, and this last year saw the end of too many things, and the revelation that I have limits.
Yet, it also provided time for my most powerful abilities to rejuvenate. Grief comes to not only torture, but to nurture the one thing ripped from your body when someone dies. Grief comes to nurture Love. And, it is clear to me that my greatest strength is understanding that I love and care for those people in my life immensely, even at great cost. I should expect to have moments to weep, without judgment or frustration. For when you have given all to save someone, yet they still die and you still lose, it is devastating. Yet, I would not live any other way.
I would rather have feelings that remind me of loyalty, love and valor than not experience what those words mean. Deep grief is the result of deep love. If there has been deep sorrow, there will likely be deep reflection and an expansion of depth for things that might occur in the future. Carleton built out a large room where Love flourished and showed me that my ability to love is immense.
I will always miss Carleton, his loyalty and his overwhelming communication of his love. Like so many, I cannot believe it has been a year since his passing. There have been days I noted his passing every minute, every hour. Now I take note by the day. And, I am still not sure, just days before this anniversary how I will feel or manage this first year anniversary without Carleton. I only know that I will manage to live through it. As I have lived through the entire year of overwhelming emotions, disorienting grief, and the experience of finding friends who simply knew they had to watch and wait for me to walk through it – sometimes I felt extraordinarily alone.
At this moment of reflection and preparation for such a terrible anniversary, I still say Thank You to those of you who have watched and loved and cared. It would have been a much worse, more lonely, and harrowing trek of grief were it not for your love, patience and care.