I last saw my friend Richard Hornby on Sunday 4th March 18 when we shared three hours of our lives with one another. He was in bed, in a room by himself, in a hospice for the terminally ill. I woke him up with “Hello Richard!” He was pleased to see me, and I was pleased to see him. We talked. We brought to life shared memories of times gone by. We laughed with one another.
And I helped him with the little things that had become huge things: getting fresh/cold water and helping him to drink it; helping him eat his fruit salad – the only thing he wanted to eat from his lunch; intervening on his behalf with the doctor to get his pain addressed; and getting the nurses to give him the morphine that the doctor prescribed.
After taking his morphine and as he was about to go to sleep I took my leave with “I’ll be coming over to see you next weekend.” I did not get to keep that promise. The next day, in the evening, I was told that my friend had died: He had died peacefully – spared physical pain, and the indignity of being at the mercy of others.
Even today, two weeks later, tears flow when I allow myself to be present to that which is so: my friend is no longer – there will never be another occasion when we walk together, eat together, talk together, laugh together. I get that he died at the right time – and I am delighted by that. This, intellectual view of the matter, does not do away with the grief/sadness that is present in me right now.
What has helped me to work with the death of my friend and the loss of our friendship is me asking myself this question: “What does playing BIG look like in the presence of loss – the loss of dear friend?” Being with this inquiry I found an abode of peace. And this inquiry helped turn my attention toward Richard himself: what is it that I so admired/liked about him?
What is it that my friend Richard embodied? What way of being-in-the-world showed up when Richard showed up? A certain humbleness / lightness that tends to be present in those who do not see themselves as more important than others. A disposition towards looking at life in the manner of the glass is half-full. His being there for me whenever I needed and asked for his help. And, his unflappability:
What does playing BIG look like in the face of Richard’s death? My answer for myself is manifold:
- To accept the sadness and allow the tears to flow down my cheeks without embarrassment;
- To allow myself to feel the full strength of grief as in the kind of grief where one cries from the stomach with the whole of one’s being;
- To remember our times together and the contribution he made to my existence – the times that I needed his help and he was there for me; and
- To keep in existence, as in embody, that which I value/admire about Richard – his humility, his genuineness, his helpfulness, and his unflappability.
I realise that what has allowed me to Play BIG with his death is that I played BIG before he died. When he told me 10 months ago he had terminal brain cancer I cried. And then I made and lived this commitment – to walk by his side, to make a positive difference to his existence in the face of his impending death.
How am I doing in keeping in existence that which Richard embodied? Badly as in failing more than succeeding. Is that bringing me down? No. Why not? This is a conversation about Playing BIG and that necessarily involves stretching – taking on that which lies to some extent beyond that which one is today. If I already embodied all the qualities of Richard that I admire/value then I probably would not have valued/admired Richard as much as I do. Put differently, sometimes Playing BIG is a marathon rather than a dash for the finishing line.
I dedicate this conversation to Richard Hornby. A human being that called forth both affection and respect from many if not all.