I think the worst part of getting older is the parade of departures from this mortal coil moves ever faster. And now I have to write about yet another one.
I'm writing today to talk about Karl. I'm not going to mention his last name out of respect for his family's privacy.
Two weeks after Mr. Brilliant died in 2013, I joined a social group for widows and widowers. I didn't want to join a grief group. I felt they were all too churchy and I truly did not want to sit in a room full of crying people. Some would say I should have, that I pushed grief away and that is why it's been squeezing out in manageable doses over eight years.
I also didn't want to join "singles" groups. I already knew that dating wasn't in the cards for me. It had been horrible in my 20s, and I knew that it was going to be even worse for an overweight woman pushing 60 So when I found a group on Meetup whose mission was to build friendships with people who "get it" in a safe space, but by sharing enjoyable times, it was exactly what I needed.
We've all known people who are like the mayor of whatever the group is. "The mayor" is always someone whose very presence signals that you are welcome. He's the first one with the smile, the extended hand, the "tell me your story" when someone new comes into the room. Karl was that person. He wasn't hitting on people, he was all about welcoming. I've realized how important this is, after joining a group here after I moved where the men don't talk with any women they're not interested in fucking, and the women seem to see all new women as interlopers. The group in NJ was nothing like that.
Every Wednesday for two years I had dinner with these people, and Karl was always right there, showing genuine delight at being with everyone, and extending that smile, that hug, that warmth, to the new and the tentative. He had an unfailing instinct for where people's boundaries were and respecting them, while providing just the right amount of comfort. And last year during that long, cold winter, I was able to host Zoom calls for the group and see them all virtually. I am now particularly glad that I had that opportunity. I had no idea that the last Zoom I hosted would be the last time I'd see Karl.
I was at one of these dinners when I got the call that my father had passed away. I'm glad I was.
Karl and I shared an enjoyment of jam bands, especially the New Jersey-based Railroad Earth. I went with him and our friend Stacey to see Hot Tuna in Stroudsburg, PA in 2014, retracing the steps and the restaurant Mr. Brilliant and I had traced a few years earlier for a different show. Karl and I weren't on the same page politically, and to be honest, I'm glad I never had to have political discussions with him during the Trump years. But upon reflection, he really did test my "You can't support Trump and still be a good person" doctrine.
Karl always closed every "widder dinner" with this toast: "To those who left us...and who brought us together." Our friend Stacey, who has endured far more than her own share of tragedy already, noted today that he has now joined them. Perhaps he will now bring THEM together in an alternate universe version of the camaraderie those they had left behind shared.
My heart hurts today for Karl's loved ones, for Stacey who was such a close friend, for Carolyn and Carol and Bette and Kurt and Susan and Dan and Lynne and Gordon and Elsa and all the others I haven't met in person and who are new, and who I just can't remember right now, for they are the ones who have to face the empty space at the table every Wednesday. His loss makes grieving just that much more difficult for those who will no longer have his smile to welcome them and show that even in the face of indescribable grief, there is warmth and friendship and hope.