On May 8th, 2012, my friend of 28 years Maurice Sendak died. Only about 4 hours after his death and not wanting me to hear the news through the media, Lynn contacted me to tell me of his passing. Every day of the following week was disorienting: How could I still be alive and Maurice not?! How could there be no more 9pm phone calls between us, no more notes, no possibility of cards being sent from his new address?! Soon after, I received an invitation to attend Maurice’s memorial on June 12th, to be held at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City. Taking money from my retirement fund I flew to New York and managed to book a hotel room for myself just down the street from the Museum. On the day of the memorial I entered the Museum, showed the invitation to a receptionist who then directed me to a wide hall to the right where I could see many other people mingling, most of whom seemed to know one another. When we went in I could see that there were approximately 300 of us, all people who had known and loved Maurice, and who had been loved by Maurice. My plan had been that once the memorial was over I would wander through the Museum and find the modern art section, a section where I had often found much inspiration. After the memorial, as I wandered, I slowly came to realize that I was so upset that I had no idea where I was in the museum!
Grief can be disorienting that way, changing our everyday, comforting landmarks into uniquely painful reminders of the life that we lived before the grief. Grief turns us into a refugee from our former life. My solution to my loss of Maurice was two-fold: On the one hand I let myself feel the pain… I literally wailed, moaned and wept; on the other hand, I attended to my everyday duties and obligations. Somehow these two aspects intertwined, slowly enabling me to grow into an acceptance that, at Life’s fork in the road, Maurice suddenly went to the left while I was forced to go to the right, and that that’s just the way it is.
Grief demands external release; life demands that it continue to be lived. My days are, again, filled with much happiness, although stray thoughts of Maurice ambush me at times, the longing to hear his voice again bringing me back to tears. Still, I am so profoundly grateful for our friendship, so happy to have been the one who, when I answered the phone in the monastery and heard the caller say, “Good evening, this is Maurice Sendak,” blurted out: “THE Maurice Sendak?!!!” On the other end of the line Maurice was howling with laughter.