Sunday, January 8, 2012

He liked to dance

Life is happening. And death too. My friend Jackie, who is part of my Maryland-DC-Virginia crew of family and friends, woke up on Tuesday morning to find her husband of three decades not in her bed. She called out to him, then went to find him when he didn't answer. Michael was on the bathroom floor, many hours dead. He'd suffered a heart attack. Just like that. Gone.

When last I saw him at my niece's sweet sixteen four months ago, he was dancing. I heard he had joyfully danced in the New Year, too. At his funeral on Saturday, his friend remembered how much he liked to dance and the whole church shook with appreciative laughter. His friend, eulogizing him, remembered his dancing moves as "one part calisthenics, one part gymnastics, with a touch of grand mal seizure thrown in." He went on: "Everyone would move out of the way, either to watch or for personal safety, and then we'd dry him off with a towel and send him back in like a prizefighter. How we all loved his exuberance."

I didn't know if I would go to the funeral. Friday was a late closing night at the magazine, but then I said, dear God, Michael didn't wake up on Tuesday morning. All that day the calls came into his emergency line, and his older daughter answered robotically, "The doctor won't be handling any emergencies today." Michael employed several people in his practice who woke up that morning and discovered they no longer had jobs. And there I was, considering missing his send-off on the altar of my job. I cut out of work by eight, my husband drove me to catch the 10 o'clock bus to DC and my cousin met me at Union Station at 2:15 a.m. It was simple in the end.

Michael's two daughters were in a daze, his wife alternated between crying and catatonic, going through the motions of greeting the mourners who crowded into church. People packed the aisles and spilled into an overflow room. After the service, the line of cars headed to the graveyard ran for miles. I looked back and couldn't see the end of it along the highway, just a train of vehicles, hazard lights blinking, moving at a solemn pace, orange cards with the word "funeral" hanging from rear view mirrors like flags of salute as far as the eye could see. I imagined Michael looking down, a humble man surprised by all the attention, and I was humbled to be there too.

At the repast in the church hall, people went up to the mic and shared their memories. An older man, who had been Michael's professor in medical school, offered a remembrance that left the room aching and sad, until another friend, a woman I don't know, went up to the mic and said, "Come on, people! Michael would not have wanted us to sit here brooding like this! He would want us to dance!" And somewhere in the room a sound system cranked up the Bob Marley tunes, and led by Jackie and her daughters, everyone moved to the dance floor. It was a dance party after that.

I got to spend time with family members I wish I saw more often, caught up with cherished friends, hugged my nephews, and reggaed with my 87-year-old aunt, who is battling cancer and the same heart condition that took Michael. I marvel at the young ones dying before the old ones, my mother and her five sisters, one of them bedridden, another cancer riddled, the others crippled by arthritis or faulty hearts, but hanging on. Yesterday, I was glad to be with family and friends, grooving to Bob Marley and saying a prayer for Michael as I imagined his carrot-top doing an energetic jig in heaven.

Dance on, my friend.


  1. Beautiful words!
    Sorry for your loss.
    Life is to short.

  2. Angella-

    Sitting here at my desk, crying. LIke a damn baby.

    Not all in sorrow. In admiration and joy and love, too.

    What a guy he must have been to leave the world around him in such a beautiful state. Sorrow for having lost him, but joy for having had him at all.

    Is there a better thing to wish for? A better mark of a life of meaning?

    I think there is not.

    I am sorry for your loss.

    I am sorry for all of us.



  3. I am so sorry for your loss.
    What a beautiful send off.
    The dancing and all, how beautiful.

  4. He must have been beloved. Dear god, I hope that people dance like that at my funeral. Oh yes, I do.

  5. what a lovely way to remember someone who sounds like a real hot ticket. for someone with that kind of exuberance, i think a sudden heart attack might not be a bad way to go. but i am so truly sorry you have lost your friend.

  6. I am so sorry for your loss and for his wife and family...To remember him dancing, exuberant and happy is a gift.

  7. What a beautiful tribute to your sweet friend.
    I am so sorry for your loss.

  8. Sorry to hear of such a loss, and so suddenly. I'm glad you were able to take time to go to the funeral. Barbara just wrote about how the gift of time is so meaningful -- and you gave it. Bravo.

  9. So glad you were able to go to what sounds like a wonderful and fitting service. What a tragic loss, I'm so sorry, Angella.

  10. Hi so nice to catch up again - Happy new year. Love hearing about you reggae-ing with your Aunt - what a wonderful picture!

  11. always manage to see the beauty in things. don't ever lose that

  12. The sudden-ness of it catches in my throat.....a reminder of our own mortality and that of our loved ones. I am glad you took the opportunity to celebrate his life. Your story will hang in my memory, urging me to do the same. Thank you.

  13. You. You, you, you. Thank you for this tribute.