Death is horrible stuff, and books on its horrors have been and will continue to be written. And many of these books attempt to help us understand and accept death, often recent deaths of people to whom we are close, and sometimes our own impending death. But I've yet to hear much talk about how we comprehend or process the death of past acquaintances.
I learned recently about the death of someone I once barely knew, Elissa, wife of my ex-girlfriend's coworker. The feelings her passing evokes are queer, being neither the intense and incomprehensible loss of someone dear nor the distant, abstracted mental shrug offered in memory of an anonymous stranger. I can't think of her death in terms of a personal loss, as the path of our brief acquaintanceship had long ago run its course. I would never have encountered her again. But in a way it's that disconnection that produces the hauntingly odd quality, the instinctive recognition that I lost something confronted with the reality that I didn't actually have it. Nothing changed, nothing given nor taken away; and yet I feel like I suffered a loss. I feel sad more indirectly than directly. I feel sad for all those who actively knew her, for those who could have known her in the future, and for the wrenchingly accidental circumstances of her death (which must have made it all the harder to comprehend). And I feel a tinge of survivor's guilt, that she knew was one of those who richly deserved life, one of those who know how to live it to its full, while I seem often merely to passively occupy both time and space. Ah well, we humans are a curious lot, forever failing to come to terms with living or with dying.
We are all someone's acquaintance, all able to linger hauntingly in someone's memory, never entirely there nor ever entirely gone.
To Elissa and Kevin, another acquaintance of mine who passed last year, I can only offer in poverty to retain their memory, appreciate the time I knew them, and leave the deserved and profound mourning to those who knew them best.