We had spent the afternoon with Manuel and his wife, Mrs. Manuel. (I wrote about Manuel here.) Manuel rudely moved to North Dakota in June 2012. We all missed him, but Aidan missed him most of all. Manuel and Aidan had a tender friendship: as the youth director at our church, Manuel gave Aidan spiritual insight and support, academic help and encouragement, and loving acceptance. Aidan gave Manuel—what, exactly? I’m not sure, but Manuel described their friendship this way when he gave a remembrance at Aidan’s funeral:
I have found myself treasuring the memory of a young man who quietly defied convention. Though our friendship was brief, I will forever be grateful beyond words that Aidan allowed me to be a part of his beautiful and complex inner world... Our friendship was initially established in the realm of the imagination--his mostly...
I discovered a boy whose favorite hobbies were creativity and imagination. These were not static nouns to him--they were his every waking moment. Dragon lore, reference manuals on mythical monsters, fantasy novels, and poetry all captured Aidan with a sense of wonder. It was a regular sight--Aidan staring off into space, only to whip out a spiral-bound notebook and begin drawing furiously; and then creating action statistics in case this new character made it into the card game he had invented.
I love that he was able to capture Aidan's essence so beautifully.
Two weeks before Aidan died (Aidan died. Will I ever be able to hear or say those words without receiving an emotional concussion?) he had told me several times how much he missed Manuel, wished he could see him, and wondered if he would come back to visit. “I need to talk to Manuel,” he told me at one point. I told him we’d be having lunch with him after church in a few days, and his face lit up. “How long will he be here?” he asked. “Probably for at least a few hours,” I said. “I’m sure he wants to spend time with you.” He smiled his curvy Aidan smile. I don’t remember, but he probably hugged me, because he rarely passed up an opportunity for a hug.
We had lunch together around the kitchen table. We ate corn and wild rice chowder with polish sausage, and crusty Dutch oven artisan bread straight out of the oven. Manuel, a frequent bread baker, was impressed with the simplicity and ease of the Dutch oven recipe.
I want to remember every word of our conversation around that table. I remember that M. Peevie and C. Peevie dominated the conversation, and that Aidan was quiet but happy—but I don’t know if this is a true memory, or just a typical meal-time scenario. Whether he said much or little, I do know for sure that Aidan was happy.
Manuel left, and a half hour later Aidan collapsed, was rushed to the hospital, and was not able to be resuscitated. Manuel and Mrs. Manuel joined us in the ER, along with our pastors and several friends. We sat in shock; our friends surrounded us, and we clung to them. Mrs. Manuel wrapped her arms around M. Peevie.
"I don't know how to leave this place without him," I said, over and over again. But we left, eventually, and went home to a house filled with neighbors and friends who somehow understood that showing up was the right thing to do. They came, with bleak expressions, offering their tears and embraces. I think 40 or 50 people showed up that night.
I cried a bit in those first few hours, but mostly I felt numb. My tears did not come until four weeks later, even though I desperately wanted to cry.
In the weeks and months following, we have slowly re-learned how to breathe, how to laugh, how to somehow live our Aidan-less lives.
How often--will it be for always?--how often will the vast emptiness astonish me like a complete novelty and make me say, "I never realized my loss until this moment"? The same leg is cut off time after time. --C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed