Friday December 2nd, we will mark the fourth anniversary of the tragic death of our dear friend Woody. The story of his death is told here, and the larger contextual aftermath is described on this site. His death is a story I tire of telling and hearing, the pain of how he exited this world still so brutal and visceral for our family of three. What I do not tire of, however, is remembering Woody's loving friendship and the joy he brought to us all.
In his inimitable way, Woody was a saint---that is, a human saint with many flaws and rough edges, all assuaged by his infectious enthusiasm and ability to see life through a distinctive pair of lenses, often bringing others along for the ride. He was the one who would spend hours with our young boy, eschewing the TV for creative and hilarious homemade games, artistic endeavors, and outdoor and indoor adventures which would sometimes sweep us---or the neighborhood kids---into their maelstrom. Like the Pied Piper, Woody could often be seen with a following of dogs and children, promises of fun yet to come seemingly falling from his pockets as the giggling children were swept along in his wake. Like Patch Adams or any famous clown, he could engage a group of children in hilarity and creative play within moments. It was magic.
In the adult world, if not successful in terms of career and professional ladder-climbing, Woody shined in other ways. One of the greatest lessons I learned from him in life was the willingness to attempt to make conversation with anyone. Even now, when faced with a potentially awkward social interaction, I often think to myself, "What would Woody do in this moment?" Especially when with the elderly---with whom he had an amazing gift of ease---I find it increasingly easy to speak and interact in a way which promotes connection and fosters empathy. I credit Woody with this skill, and will continue to hone it in my daily life.
Here is a more complete portrait which I posted on his forty-first birthday.
So far, the plan for Friday is to visit his grave with our son. We may also take in a Dali exhibit in Hartford, since the cemetery is not far from the city and Woody was a gifted surrealist. The cemetery is a lovely spot along a river, his ashes interred alongside that of his grandparents. His lovely parents will also eventually rest there as well, and the setting could not be more picturesque and old-world New England: old headstones sinking into the damp earth, wrought iron fencing from another era, huge oaks and maples towering above the graves, the seasons coming and going, leaving the detritus of leaves, melting snow, ice, spring rains, new grass, wildflowers, and the heat of the summer sun on the deep, rich,and fertile soil.
I have vowed to treat his birthday and deathday as holidays for the rest of my life. Last year, I had to teach on the anniversary of his death, and I deeply regretted that circumstance, one which I hopefully plan to never repeat. These anniversaries are important and precious. Although we can be close in spirit to the dead at any time, these special days hold an emotional and ritualistic power which deserves to be recognized and honored. It is on these days when the veils between the worlds may be thinner---perhaps not literally (or perhaps so), but at least in our own psyches. Marking a death anniversary is allowing a pause to overtake the daily grind, taking an emotional breath, acknowledging that a specific day holds import and emotional and spiritual resonance.
On a recent bookstore expedition, I spied a book about the Mexican culture's embrace of death, its veneration and recognition of the importance of honoring the spirit world. I was reminded of how colorful and celebrational their Day of the Dead can be, and of how it is as much about caring for the dead as for the living. I like to think that we care for Woody and his memory by honoring his passing---and his living---regularly, and our family is dedicated to never relinquishing the importance and spirit of that recognition.
To my dear friend, Robert Alan "Woody" Woodward (March 19, 1964 to December 2, 2001), I send the message that although you are missed with the sweetest sadness, you are remembered with undying love and the deepest gratitude for a memorable and venerable friendship like no other. I miss your physical presence more than I sometimes wish to allow myself to feel, but give thanks for the time that we did indeed share upon this earth. Be here now, Woody, as I drift into the dreamtime. May we meet again.