When my grandma Cora died, I distinctly remember somebody telling me that she wasn't dead.
“She's living on in you,” they said. I have no memory who. “As long as you remember her and keep her in your heart, she's never really dead.”
I was twelve. I'll never know if that was just one of those comments meant to stop a crying child. I don't even remember if it made me feel better. What I do remember is hearing from another family member, “She was a cowgirl.” Since then I've learned that we're all inalienably entitled to picture death in whatever form or fashion we so choose. “She's a cowgirl” always summed it up for me. It was bad, a feeling of loss, but there was always something about that statement that overcame the bad. Right then it was exactly what I needed to hear.
When a friend Jeff died seven years later, I didn't go to the poetry slam dedicated to his earthy and bourgeois impact, didn't join the group driving to the services and couldn't bring myself to meet his mother. Besides my own private and solitary tribute, what I did do was pull up his website from time to time. In looking at that page, in just taking in the experience he had himself laid out, designed, in a way painted, it almost felt like a part of him was alive. It felt like maybe his faded spectral form was sitting just behind me, arms crossed in a silent approval. Looking at the site brought on a clouded feeling, but other feelings came too. These were the feelings that I needed.
The site lasted a few years before vanishing. Maybe deleted, maybe buried in the explosion of voices. Whatever it might have been, the website never outright said that he was a cowboy, or an elitist, or a guy that I wish I'd know better. But it did talk. In his own way, he was telling me what I needed to hear.
“Are these our dead friends, or the gramophone?”