The best way to prepare for the next moment is to live fully in this one.

I knew my wife and children were dying. We had long months and years for preparatory grief. However, what I found was that preparatory grief didn’t prepare me for their deaths. It prepared me for our life in that moment. Nothing ever prepared me for what I was to encounter.

There are so many that have come here (to this page) who have experienced sudden death of a loved one, a deep loss without warning. I have had that experience only once.

Alan was one of my best friends. He was my oldest friend. Alan was there when we found out Lydia was pregnant. I celebrated my joy with him. Alan was there when Lydia went into her seizure three weeks before due date. It was Alan I called first and he was the first to arrive at the hospital. Alan was there when in the first month of Matt’s life when I was with Matt day in and day out in the intensive care.

Alan was the first friend I called when Bryan was born two and half months early and spent his first month in intensive care. Alan flew from California to Colorado when I told him we got the call from the blood bank and my wife and children were HIV+. Alan was the one that found an old hippie with a sailboat that took Matt and I out to sea to spread Lydia’s ashes. It was with Alan I stayed with when I spread Bryan and Matt’s ashes in the same sea. Alan was always there…and now he’s not here.

Alan was coming up through Tahoe with his new wife and infant son. We were to have coffee the next day. That night Alan’s expansive heart burst and he died in his sleep.

I experience the same dynamics of my Afterloss with Alan as I have with the others, but the suddenness of his death has made it different, too. I live loss the way I live life. Every relationship is unique in both life and loss. The path to healing is different with each person and each circumstance. I have yet to find a roadmap or some systematic process in my world of Afterloss.

There is no one size fits all in this new world.

However, one of the common question in all of my losses is what do I do with shared history? I experience the loss of shared history as deeply as my loss of this moment with my love ones. In my world of Afterloss, assimilating shared history is one of the most challenging multi-layered processes I embrace.

My older brother, Michael, died last August. Once there were three siblings and now there are two. He was diagnosed with late stage cancer and three of the longest short months later he died. I went back to Dallas to see him. One day Michael and I went for a drive. We played Bob Dylan’s, “Like a Rolling Stone” CD as we drove. As teenagers we would drive out in the country blasting Dylan with our windows down out into the summer air. Rarely did we speak as we drove by the house where Lydia died, the other house where Matt died, and the school where Matt spent his precious days. We were both sharing history and making history.

The one part of shared history that spreads in all directions in my Afterloss, though, was the next day. I was sitting with Michael at the table. I said, “I really enjoyed our drive yesterday.” Michael slowly finished his sip of coffee and as he placed his cup back onto the table, with a peaceful sigh he softly said, “It was great.”

My other brother, Skip, has a neurological illness that has no treatment and is fatal. According to medical journals the average length of life after diagnosis is five to seven years. We found out about four years ago, but looking back, the symptoms have been around for longer. This illness manifests in the brain and shuts down the organs. In Skip’s case, the organ affected regulates his blood pressure. The doctor has told him that his blood pressure can drop so rapidly that his heart could just stop one night while he’s asleep. Skip could go to bed one night and never wake up.

Skip and I talk every day, sometimes more than once a day. In fact, I just got off the phone with him. I called to ask his permission to share this part of his journey. I thought it would be a short conversation. Thirty minutes later we say good-bye. This shared moment has now become shared history.

I know I can’t hold on to the moment. I can only catalogue another conversation and a deeper awareness of how much I love him. I am deeply aware of how fragile life is and how precarious the moments are in which I live. Once there were three siblings. Then there were two. One day there will be only one. But I am also keenly aware that we really don’t know which one that will be.

The best way to prepare for the next moment is to live fully in this one.


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