As many of you know, my cousin Evan died suddenly last Sunday. He collapsed while running a half marathon. He was twenty eight. Even though Evan lived in Seattle and our parents are close, I don’t think I’ve seen him since my sister’s wedding. It’s so easy to take people for granted.
There was a memorial for Evan at his folks’ house yesterday, a huge and beautiful party of a couple of hundred or more people who cared about this man. There were stricken faces and also there was laughter. There were sunflowers and music and food. There was a great amount of beer. It made me wish that everyone I knew would get married, because that’s the only other time people have a gathering that good in their honor, and with marriages they get to attend. They get to see how loved they are. Though in the cosmic merging of the afterlife, I would hope people feel loved too.
There is a circle of cedar trees at Evan’s family’s place, and they strung prayer flags up high in the branches that fluttered like spirits and made a circle to grieve inside. The cedars grow in a thick circle, and as I stood inside them I thought of how even as some of the magnificent trees fall over time, the circle will still stand and the remaining trees will grow to hold the space. That circle of trees feels holy, and it feels resilient.
I don’t know that trees grieve like we do, and I know Evan is deeply grieved, but I saw that same magnificence and resiliency in Evan’s circle of brothers and friends. They made something together, through their inter-grown lives. They made something that is still growing. It was so clear, watching people speak yesterday, that Evan is mourned by a community, not by a few straggling lone souls. This speaks to who he was as a person, and to the love he was raised inside.
At the end of the memorial, they released a cluster of balloons into the sky. As a childhood subscriber to Ranger Rick magazine, I admit I cringed at the thought of where they all would land, but there was also something so incredibly right about that act. His family stood in a tight circle and released the balloons, which wiggled slowly into the air. They moved strangely like sperm, which made a kind of beautiful, circular sense. As they rose, the sky seemed to grow larger. I could almost imagine infinity. It didn’t happen instantly; for a while the balloons seemed to hover, as if they were looking down at the party. Then they shrank into specks. People turned towards each other, moved towards the beer. I forgot to be watching the moment they disappeared into the clouds.
There is a memorial 5K run planned to honor Evan, and also a fund going to help out his family and let them complete the orchard that Evan had been helping build. It’s really beautiful to see so many people chip in to help.