June 28, 2002
Simply said, it is impossible to employ words to describe the inexhaustible and constant flow of emotion, grief and memory that occur when thinking of Danielle, and the loss of Danielle, and of our world without her, her dynamic, can-do attitude, her love for family, friends and community, her impishness, her gracefulness in fighting and ultimately succumbing to this awful disease, and her sometimes simple, but mostly complex joy in being alive. The French have an expression for someone who, like Danielle, does exactly what she wants and should do with her life. That she is bien dans sa peau, or relaxed with herself and how she has taken charge of her life. We might all do well, or at least a little better, to remember our Danielle this way, and take comfort in the fact that perhaps she would have liked to be remembered in this way, with a rugby jersey on her back, a drumstick in one hand, and a microphone in the other, surrounded by friends with a mixed landscape of Evanston, Northampton and San Francisco in the background.
It was observed by Ted Kennedy (of all people, though he has more experience in these awful matters than most of us), that nothing in nature prepares us for the death of a child. It is not natural, not part of the expected ordering of one's life, of one's contemplation of death (especially of contemplation of the death of loved ones), and it hurts beyond any physical or mental pain otherwise imaginable. As a relatively new father myself, I have come to see and appreciate--through lived experience, for there truly is no other way to see and appreciate such things--how fragile our world is, how fragile our children seem to be, and are, and how much we have that can be forever lost and never fully regained. The mere thought of the death of child is so dark a place that, in fact, thought cannot dwell there, except when confronted with absolute, undeniable fact. And it is in that dark place, confronted with absolute, undeniable fact, that my dear Aunt Sandy and Uncle Ron have had to dwell for many months.
Little else in nature prepares anyone for the death of someone so young, so vibrant, so giving to and so engaged with those around her and her world. It is not fair, not fair at all. It is too soon, all too early to attend to the loss of a young woman who had not even reached her 29th birthday. And yet, fairness itself is a human construct, something that, does not occur in nature, and is, in fact, created by human beings. Whether one calls it caritas (as the Christian tradition does), or mitzvah (as the Jewish tradition does), or what the Roman pagan/Stoic tradition called the vita mixta, it is through loving and selfless caring for each other that we may achieve fairness, or at least make a tentative, desultory peace with nature and fate, a fate that was, in Danielle's case, cold, indifferent and harsh. And it is in this way that the entire Drumke family--Sandra, Ron, Michael, David, Mila, Jody, Kara, Joey and little Dylan (though he may not yet know)--and, indeed Danielle's large extended family, including, most importantly, her loving community of friends, have helped themselves to make some peace with Danielle's loss.
The late playwright Scott McPherson wrote about the significance of the fact that those in his community, then decimated by the scourge of AIDS, took mutual care of each other: "And we all take care of each other, the less sick caring for the more sick. At times, an unbelievably harsh fate is transcended by a simple act of love, by caring for another." The love and care that Danielle's family and friends have shown in the past 20 months is incandescent.
And so, Ave atque Vale, dear cousin. Hail and farewell. Know that, when I last saw you, with my wife, your sister Mila and her husband Joey and your two little cousins-once-removed, even though you were very sick, you were fully inhabiting your life, and sending that image to those around you, and that it will not be forgotten by anyone sitting at that table, middle-aged, young, or very young. Know that you were and are loved, and that all who love you will carry their own, like images of you with them always. It is my hope that your father, mother, brothers, sister, sisters- and brother-in-law, nephew and dear friends will find some comfort in those images (of which they will have many, many more than I), as perhaps you would wish, and that we may all meet again.
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