By Tracy Chesney

We picked an unusual spot to hang out the other day. It was a nice, quite, peaceful place. Twilight was approaching and dark ominous clouds were forming in the sky. Other people came and left, but still, we lingered and chatted about everything and nothing in particular. We had a tough time leaving.

I didn’t want to leave because this is the saddest part of the year — the time when my youngest son goes back to college, so I wanted to spend as much time as possible with him. He didn’t want to leave because, well, he didn’t want to leave his best friend behind without saying good-bye again.

As I sat there in a lawn chair, my son, Bobby, sat on the ground fiddling with all the mementos left on his friend’s tombstone. It had been a year and half to the day since his best friend, Kyle, had died.

Kyle, who lived his whole life with a rare heart condition, died at the age of 18 while playing a pick-up football game with his friends. When Kyle was 14, he was playing football with the guys at our house, and that night, he became extremely ill and almost died several times during his three-month hospital stay.

When Kyle had become sick four years ago, my son struggled with guilt because Kyle became sick after playing football at our house. And when he died four years later, once again, he was playing football.

So Bob and I talked about the “what ifs.” What if he hadn’t been playing football? Would it have still happened? We talked about how his death came so unexpectedly, how we thought he was over his illness, that he’d live on.

Of course, all the guys he was playing football with last year were going through that guilt stage. But his mother reassured everybody that the doctor said it was just his time to go. It could have happened anywhere at anytime.

Everybody knew of his heart condition, and it scared Kyle’s mom every time that he played any type of sports. But Kyle knew what he was doing. He knew he was taking chances, but he made a choice to live.

As the skies grew darker, still we sat chatting about the good old days. As Bob still fiddled with all the little mementos on the grave, he explained that Kyle had all sorts of inside jokes with all his friends. So that somehow would explain the little hunting dog, the rocks, packages of Taco Bell hot sauce, the pennies and the golf balls.

We talked about how we wish we had more pictures of the two of them together; about that when he had a son, he was going to name him after Kyle; about how Bob had been thinking about Kyle that whole day not realizing that it was the year and half anniversary of his death. We talked about all the crazy things they used to do and memories of the past.

From a distance, I watched a lady pull up, get out of her truck and sit silently beside a grave. You could tell she was grieving as she wiped tears from her eyes. Just as quickly as she came, she silently left. I wondered who she had lost and how long had it been.

As we continued to talk, what surprised me the most was that neither one of us cried. Was it because time was on our side? Could it possibly be true that time heals all wounds? I had wanted to go comfort that lady earlier and tell her that time eventually will help. But how do you explain something like that to someone in grief?

My backward reasoning has always been that if you don’t think about the problem, then the problem doesn’t exist. Don’t think about your kids being away at college, and you won’t feel that empty nest. Don’t think about your son’s friend’s death, and you won’t get upset.

Then you realize that that type of backward reasoning doesn’t work, because these things have a way of haunting your dreams. Maybe the thing to do is to look forward and not backward. Share your memories and talk about your problems, but get on with life, because life has a way of moving forward whether you’re willing to cooperate or not.

As we walked away from the gravesite, I was sad because I knew he would be leaving once again. The emptiness is what’s sad because they’re not around anymore.

As the rain started to pour from the skies, we scrambled to get in our cars. As I was about to leave, I looked back, and there he was again, fiddling with one more thing on the grave.

So you wonder why it’s so hard to let go. Whether it’s between a son and his friend or a mother and her son, there’s something there that holds you together, some special bond. Maybe it’s the life you shared, the memories you made.

As he got in his car and drove away, I wondered what was going on in his mind. Since he suffered a tragic loss at a young age, I believe he realizes the importance of life, not to take things for granted. I knew he didn’t want to leave, but he knows that life must go on, and in the process he searches for ways to hang onto his past.

Now that he’s gone for college for another year, it makes you realize not to take things for granted, the importance of life. In the process, however, you search for ways to hang onto those memories. Because it’s the memories that keep you going. But still, it was hard to leave.

Tracy Chesney is a feature writer for the Herald-Banner.

Recommended for you