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On a Wednesday, at a wake.

I’m so sorry for your loss.

Because we don’t know what to say, because death sucks.

He looks so good.

He kinda looked better not dead, but he’s been taxidermied nicely, if that’s what you mean.

Let me know if there’s anything I can do.

Because we don’t know what to do, because there’s nothing we can do, because death sucks.

It’s so nice to see you. I wish it could have been under better circumstances.

That one kills me. Not literally, because I’m still here on this side of the coffin. But it’s probably the thing I like the least when people say it.

It’s so nice to see you. I wish it could have been under better circumstances.

Actually, it could have been. It could have been under better circumstances, if you had really wanted to see me, if it would really have been nice to see me.

If you hadn’t been too busy.

If I hadn’t been too busy.

If we had made “nice to see you” a priority over “have to work” and “kids are sick” and “tired” and “weather sucks” and “such a long drive” and other things that prevent us from seeing each other until the next dead person gets stuffed into a box.

Years ago, my aunt used to say, “Don’t send me flowers when I’m dead. Send them to me while I’m alive.”

She meant it.

My aunt was a powerhouse. She said it like it was. She said things like don’t send me flowers when I’m dead and we all nodded and agreed because my aunt didn’t say things lightly. She didn’t say “woe is me” things. She didn’t want to make us feel guilty for not showing up at her barbecue (we always showed up) and she wasn’t making a point about how we had forgotten her birthday (we never forgot). She was not being morbid. It was just a fact, a thing she said like so many other things that told us like it was.

My aunt was glue. She showed up on everyone’s front steps with grocery bags full of lettuce and cookies and coffee and paper towels, no matter how many miles lay between her and them. She hosted birthday parties and anniversaries because it was your first or sixth or fortieth. She showed up for graduations and communions and chicken pox.

She was never too tired. She was never too busy. She never had to work that day. She never said I wish it could have been under better circumstances.

There were always better circumstances because she made better circumstances.

This was the aunt who, on my wedding day, when she got stuck in traffic and was late to the church, we held up the wedding for. The one I refused to walk down the aisle without, the one that caused the priest much annoyance because holding up my wedding meant holding up the one after it.

We didn’t care. Events didn’t happen without my aunt, especially not a wedding event. My aunt wasn’t just family. She defined family.

When she died, we broke our promise. We sent her flowers. But we never wished it could have been under better circumstances. We’d had many years of better circumstances. We wanted more. You always want more. But we didn’t leave the wake reflecting on how we’d been too busy or too tired or too something to spend time with her.

We spent time with her, because we made time to spend with her.

Because she told us to send her flowers while she was alive, and because she sent us plenty in return.

We lost a friend recently, and all the usual things got said at the wake. I said some of them and wished I could have thought of something better to say than I’m sorry.

An apology isn’t the sort of thing that feels right at these moments but it’s what we’re conditioned to say. Sometimes, because it feels so inadequate, I say nothing. I’ve been to enough wakes that I’ve had time to practice.

I’ve been to enough wakes that I’ve had time to reflect on busy and tired and long drive. I’ve made promises to be more present in life. To spend time with people under better circumstances.

After the wake, though, I get busy. Life goes on. I have work and clients and the meatloaf is in the oven and last time I saw him, we got in an argument anyway, and I don’t really need that stress.

I don’t send flowers.

At the wake of our friend, there wasn’t a single cell phone in sight. Not a single person checked their email or posted to Facebook. Nobody was busy for four straight hours. Nobody had a client emergency or just had to check up on that thing. Nobody needed to Google anything or make a note real quick.

Not even the kids. Our friend was a pediatrician and for hours, streams of parents and children walked through to pay their respects. From toddlers to teenagers, not a single child had a tablet or cell phone. Nobody looked down. Nobody checked out. Nobody had something more important or captivating to do through a screen in their hand.

For a few hours we interacted person-to-person. We talked. We laughed. Better circumstances under worse circumstances.

Afterwards, on the long drive home, I reflected on the conversation we’d had with another friend we hadn’t seen in a while. We’d promised to get together and catch up.

Would we? Would it be nice to see her under better circumstances?

I reflected on the seven hours I’d spent in the car that day to attend the wake. And the six I hadn’t driven the week before to celebrate my nephew’s third birthday because it was too far and I was too tired and I’m going to see him in a couple of weeks anyway.

Better circumstances had been right in front of me, and I’d decided not to participate. If my nephew had died, I’d have spent six hours in the car to go to his wake. I’d have gotten on a plane from across the world to go to his wake.

My aunt would have showed up to his birthday.

This is the part where I’m supposed to say “god forbid”, as if writing the words dares them to come true. As if I’m tempting fate and have to repent of thinking – worse, of saying out loud – some horrible thought.

But maybe I need to reflect on that thought because no sooner did we get back from the wake than the cell phones came out, and it wasn’t to call our friend to make plans to get together. It was to check email. It was to be busy.

I am less like my aunt than I want to be. I’m not the person showing up with lettuce and paper towels. I’m not the one having birthday parties. I’d send flowers, but they’re so overpriced and by the time they get there, they’re half dead and then you throw them out in a few days anyway.

I want to be more like my aunt. I want to say I was there under better circumstances. I just forget that it’s Mother’s Day. And I don’t realize that six months has gone by. And I’m working on my startup which is really crazy right now.

I have a lot of reasons.

Dying is easy. It’s life that’s hard, life that you have to pay attention to before it disappears out from under you. Nobody ever says, “Wow, I can’t believe how long I’ve been dead!” Or, “It’s been ten years but it feels like I just died yesterday.”

Life is the hard part. You have to live diligently. You have to live like maybe you won’t live forever, like maybe you won’t see him in a few weeks, like maybe there won’t be better circumstances.

You have to live now.  You have to make better circumstances now. And you have to send flowers now.

I have to send flowers now.

Let’s both go find someone to send flowers to, and do that. Let’s both call a friend or a family member and ask them what they had for dinner. Let’s both put “birthday” on the calendar, and then show up.

Let’s not die before we decide to live.