I have an address book. A real, honest-to-God address book. I’m not sure when I got it, but it’s at least 25 years old. There are tabs for each letter of the alphabet. Each entry includes lines for name, address and phone number. And it’s a mess. Sometimes I correct addresses and phone numbers, sometimes I just tear off the return address from their latest Christmas card and stick it in the front.
Recently, I had reason to go through my mother’s address book. She’s almost 89, and I was a bit surprised that she updated hers in a way I didn’t: she noted when a friend died.
I’ve gone through mine – mostly during the holidays – and as I read a name thought, ‘he’s dead,’ ‘she’s dead,’ ‘they’re both dead’. But I don’t cross out their names. My mother wrote ‘died’ after some of the names. For one she even wrote that she was surprised how much the news had affected her.
My Facebook friends list also includes a few who have died. They remain on the list because their pages are still there. People can visit to wish a happy birthday or convey their continuing sense of loss. I could delete the names. But I don’t.
For a long time I felt like I was just lazy. If I were as organized as I strive to be, I’d cross out their names or just buy a new address book and start over again. But I couldn’t.
Going through my mother’s address book made me realize I hadn’t changed anything because I didn’t want to change anything. I wanted to keep those names in the book so I didn’t forget them. I wanted to be reminded of Dan and Delle and Mary Ellen and Pierre and all the other friends who have died. Because I was afraid if I didn’t see their names I might forget them.
Of course, that’s silly. They may not be in my thoughts every day, but I could never forget them. When I see their names I’m reminded of the times we shared together and how much they meant to me. I think of them when they were most alive, not when they were dying.
So the address book stays as it is: messy, falling apart, though not yet in need of a rubber band to hold it together. I’ll risk feeling sad when I see their names. And I’m okay with that.