Honoring the Dead

The dead are honored more by our lives than by our words.

About a week ago I commemorated my maternal grandmother’s passing, which still seems recent to me even though it happened 23 years ago. She remains the single most important person I’ve encountered in my journey through life thus far. For some reason another departed friend has also risen to the fore of my consciousness recently.

When I was a young boy, every summer my mother would drive me across town to spend a day or two with Aaron Vredenberg. His grandfather was the president of the company my father worked for and to my mother it was something of an honor for me to be asked over to spend time with Dwight’s grandson. I didn’t understand that at the time, naturally. I just enjoyed my days with Aaron, exploring his grandparents’ architecturally remarkable house, riding bicycles around the neighborhood, admiring each others’ Star Wars figures, playing board games, getting ourselves covered in dirt and grass stains from the yard. The house was massive, or at least I remember it that way, and it always felt empty to me. At noontime, Ruth would call us to the kitchen and make us sandwiches. She was always very sweet and gracious to me, treating me as if I were her grandson, too. I have nothing but warm, kind memories of those days, and even though Aaron and I drifted apart over the years, I always considered him my friend.

A memory stands out to me now, though the incident was meaningless to me at the time. One particular summer day, Aaron pulled out a Ouija board, that quaint and commercialized leftover from 19th-century spiritualism. We pushed the glass around the board for a while and them went on to some other game. Later on Aaron confided to me that he had spoken to someone named Ajax, who he thought was a slave buried somewhere on the grounds of his grandparents’ home. This had the tenor of a ghost story for me and I took it as nothing else. You know how young boys are.

Aaron died of an apparent suicide when we were teenagers. Only just recently did his reference to Ajax pop back into my mind, however. You may recall from the story of the Iliad that Ajax was a great warrior who survived the Trojan War but was driven mad by Athena and ultimately killed himself in shame. Aaron and I were too young to know much of anything about the Iliad and while his reference to Ajax is a coincidence, to me it has served as a timely reminder to remember and honor him.

~BT Waldbillig
December 1, 2015

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