I don’t think I’m wrong to suggest that the older we get, the more we find ourselves saying goodbye to things that had importance in our lives. As we left behind our childhood and youth, we bid farewell to our first bicycles, our first cars, sometimes even to our first loves. The older we get, the more it is bound to happen. The circles must always come around to close on themselves. Awful rumor has it that it eventually happens even to boats, evidenced by the pitiful hulks abandoned in boat graveyards along most of the roads leading to recreational waters.
Of course it’s not just the things in our lives that eventually are lost. As we’ve grown older, many of us have had to say goodbye to people we love, including old friends. Early this summer I lost my lifelong friend, Kevin Mouton. Growing up in south Louisiana, this was the first real friendship in my life, and one that never failed or faltered in over 40 years. Kevin was there when I got my first motorcycle, my first car, my first boat, and he was there when I said goodbye to these things, usually at lamentable financial loss. He was my best friend when I met my first love, and years later, he was the best man at my marriage to the love of my life, Roxanne. Through all these years, Kevin and I shared adventure and misadventure, joy and sorrow, triumph and defeat. He was the brother I was not born with but always had, and now he is gone. Dust to dust. Full circle.
Hard as it is to deal with, I know it’s not impossible. We all experience loss, and we have no choice but to handle it the best we can. There is no direction but forward. There is no way to climb but up.
For many, faith will comfort and sustain, and I am no different in that regard, but this column is not about that. Nor is it about denying grief, a necessary part of the closing of life’s circles. It’s more about the hole I found in my life, and how I’ve been struggling to cover it. The interesting thing is that it’s a hole made by me, in living – not by my friend, in dying. Since he’s been gone, still so recently, I have been trying to figure out how to restore my zest, rediscover my sense of what’s fun and funny, revive my joie de vivre. Like a faithful dog who finds himself suddenly alone, I’ve been searching in desperation for my old friend, Ted.
I found him in the most unexpected place. I found him in the very eulogy I wrote for Kevin.
“Neither did the laughter ever stop, all the way to the end. Kevin was still chuckling and making jokes the last time we spoke. I know that doesn’t surprise anyone who knows him. He never quit grinning. Not at you. Not at me. Not at any of us. Almost literally, Kevin died laughing. It is the best any of us could hope for, for ourselves or for anyone we love.”
In retrospect and introspect, the important thing is not that Kevin “died laughing,” although it was a touching thing to point out at his funeral, and true. More to his credit, Kevin lived laughing. Visit me on my boat some bright summer day. We can sit on the bow in a cooling breeze and I’ll tell you the story of the tequila, the earth worms and the scrambled eggs. Or about when the motorcycle met the port-a-potty “head on,” so to speak. Or any of a thousand other stories of living and loving and laughing so well.
These are the things that fill a good life, and any holes we perceive, later, are of our own creation – contrivances of the living, not the dead. I’m not suggesting we should try to deny our natural grief. But in the long run it’s about filling empty spaces, not covering them up. The ones we lose are never really gone when we hold them in memory, and sustain them with laughter. The original laughter never dies. It lives for as long as the good stories are told and retold.
A mutual friend, Brian, wore shorts and sandals to Kevin’s funeral. When someone asked, “Do you think that’s appropriate?” Brian responded, “Well I dunno, I wonder what Kevin would think?”
Off to the side, I laughed out loud in appreciation of Brian’s pure and thoughtful tribute to the independent, free-soaring spirit that Kevin Mouton always was, and still is. Ha! I know just what Kevin would think. He’d die laughing. Just as he lived.
And that truly is the best any of us can hope for.
Live well, love much, and laugh often.
My best from the Stern,
Ted A. Thompson