Peggy’s sister Sally is here, and while she mentioned in the blog note posted yesterday that she was a Hospice nurse for years, she didn’t mention what’s even more relevant at the moment, that she’s also a psychologist and a grief counselor. What a family! If you count just a tiny sample of relatives, there are doctors and PAs, computer experts, market researchers, water resource experts, former dessert chefs (the most important specialty?), medical-technology entrepreneurs, pointy-headed academics, and lots more—but sometimes what you really need is a grief counselor.
So it’s a good thing Sally is here. She understands the waves of utter sadness that wash over you, the ways in which that ebbs, then comes again, then ebbs, perhaps a little further along but not much, and she understands that that happens not just to Brooke or to Peggy or to other members of the immediate family, but to everyone who loved or has come to love Brooke.
But there are other losses too, and other griefs. Not long after Brooke’s accident last fall, Bill Spencer died, the owner and chief butcher at the 8th Avenue Meat & Grocery, a local store so rooted in time that it closed down with Bill, and sent all of us who loved shopping there precisely because it hadn’t changed since maybe 1960 off to buy our groceries in the glossy modern American supermarkets. And just a couple of weeks ago there was loss a more startling loss because less expected: Michael Adamson, our hairdresser for almost thirty years, died utterly suddenly of a heart attack: he was only in his 50s, unlike Bill, in his 80s. Michael also left behind a local establishment that was the expression of his irrepressible personality: the 9th Avenue Salon, located needless to say on 9th Avenue, not far from our house. Here too the loss is great not just because you lose a person you’ve loved for decades, but you’ve loved them not only because of the wonderfully idiosyncratic people they were but because their respective establishments magnified the traits of their personalities that you treasured. Bill’s store hadn’t been modernized since the 1960’s (cardboard cutouts of Snap! Crackle! and Pop! were still hanging from the ceiling), and Michael’s beauty parlor resisted all the temptations of commercial beauty-industry glitz. It was a place you could like being in, and a place that didn’t just make your hair look better but made you feel better, not just in a superficial commercial way but more deeply restored. This is the beauty parlor Brenda Cowley’s stage play Shear Luck celebrates—a place where glitz isn’t central, manufactured pseudo-beauty isn’t the goal, and even the old ladies sitting under dryers remain a real force. Michael came a number of times to cut Brooke’s hair while he’s been in the hospital, just out of friendship and love. (For those of you who knew Michael, there’s a memorial service for him tomorrow, Saturday August 22, from 1:00-3:00 at the Salt Lake Acting Company—he often did wigs for SLAC and of course everybody there knew him. Come, the invitation says, wearing what Michael would have wanted you to wear to his funeral: an outrageous wig, sequined pants, drag.) Fortunately the 9th Avenue Salon will remain open, even if Michael himself is gone.
The griefs we’re recognizing have something in common with these other losses. An institution, if you can think of Brooke’s wild outdoors self--hiking, biking, skiing, trekking, snowshoeing, always active and always out of doors—is gone, at least for now, and not likely to fully return. And the institution that he built, if you can think of the teaching he did and the classrooms that he filled with his engaging intellectual personality as a kind of institution too, is also gone for the moment, at least in that he can’t at the moment pace before a class, cover a chalkboard with writing, boom out in his lecturing voice so that a whole class hears. After all, Brooke’s losses are in a sense double: he had just retired and so given up teaching, at least for the most part, and has also lost the use of the body he so actively inhabited.
Part of what Sally brings in her sensitivity to grief is the acknowledgment that loss is real, and that at the same time this loss isn’t complete. Bill Spencer’s 8th Avenue Meat & Grocery is closed, standing empty; and Michael Adamson now only indirectly animates the 9th Avenue Salon. But Brooke is still here—indeed, even in his moments of most intense grief he sometimes says, “but I’m still alive.” And that means, of course, that there’s time to fashion a new person out of the ruins even when grieving for the old one.
Dale Hull, the physician with a C5 spinal cord injury some ten years back who is Brooke’s friend and mentor, says he gave himself a wake when he realized he wouldn’t have his old body fully back again. A wake makes perfect sense, as the expression of grief, but given what Dale has managed to do in the meantime, among other things co-founding the outpatient spinal-cord rehab clinic Neuroworx, it might seem that a christening for his new self is also in order. It think it will be the same with Brooke: we’re coming to that stage of grieving where we can perhaps imagine a wake, but also beginning to see the earliest hints of the emergence of a new person as well. And yet, paradoxically it might seem, everybody also knows it’s the same old Brooke there in the bed, there in the wheelchair, there with the vent sighing lightly in the background, the one we’ve always loved.
PS Come to the service 8/22 for Michael Adamson, if you knew him, and keep that institution alive.