EULOGY FOR DAVYD WHALEY
Thornton Wilder wrote, “The greatest tribute to the dead is not grief but gratitude.”
So first of all, I am deeply grateful to Davyd, for all that he gave me, for all that he taught me, for every single day of the ten years we spent together. There was love, there was laughter, there was growth, companionship, and expansion. I looked forward to seeing him first thing in the morning and I wanted him to be the last thing I saw at night.
He was a completely original person, unlike anyone I ever met. I fell in love with him instantly, as though I had been waiting for him. He was in every way the perfect counterpart to me and I loved every aspect of our life together.
My friend Colette said to me, “Davyd always had a soft defiance about being different.” And that’s true. He never based his behavior on what was expected of him by others, but instead by his own sense of what he thought was right for himself. And by living his life in this way, he taught me to become a more authentic person.
He was attracted to the misfit, the outcast, the rejected; that which others might not find beautiful he found beautiful, and in his paintings you can see his love and search for the numinous.
He was such a sensitive soul, in a way that many great artists are, and with that sensitivity came great suffering. As long as I’ve known him, in spite of our happy life together, Davyd also seemed to hurt for the world. He hurt for children. He hurt for the broken-hearted. He hurt for those who had no voice. When Katrina happened in New Orleans he sat in front of the television and cried for days, and afterwards stopped watching the news because it would disturb him so deeply to see a world in such turmoil. His pain seemed based in early experiences in his life, that always pursued him like a shadow, and yet he continued to pursue his inner growth. At various points, early on in our ten years together, Davyd suffered from horrible migraines and unexplained seizures. And yet, he found a creative solution. He began to paint and to express himself in the most courageous way. Davyd’s life began to bloom like a magnificent flower.
He also dove into the subconscious to find meaning and answers for his life experience. He wrote, “The mysterious experiences we go through while dreaming are amazing. If one keeps a dream journal, then one can take in what one is being told by the unconscious. For example, I dreamed about a butterfly, which flew through the forest each night. My life moved differently because of the way the butterfly came to me in my dream…I believe one should honor what is seen in dreams. Own it. In this instance, a butterfly is most definitely a good omen. Yes, it’s three o’clock in the morning, but I write it down. The mind tells us something important for a reason. This beautiful creature is also flying, moving upwards to where there is transformation.”
It causes me great pain to say that I do not know what descended upon him in his final days, what triggered this awful event, which has been so devastating to me and to those who loved him. He seemed to slip away quickly, almost completely without warning, to either myself or his doctors. I have thought back through things that happened this year: there certainly were issues that had come up, but they were issues we’d faced before together. Perhaps there was a perfect storm of events. The truth is I just don’t know.
And not knowing has been its own special kind of agony. And I have been plagued by guilt and confusion, that somehow I missed some sign, or that there is something more i could have done to bring some different result.
Everyone, and I mean everyone, has been so kind to me and has reached out in so many loving ways during this time; from all my colleagues at the various shows I work on, to Twitter fans of the shows on which I work, to people I admire but have never met. But for quite a few days I was inconsolable, I felt so lost in my grief.
Then earlier this week, I woke in the middle of the night, agitated and unable to sleep. And I received a message on Facebook from a stranger I’ve never met. The stranger’s note to me gave me comfort and I was able to go back to sleep. I wrote back and the next night they wrote again, and we have been corresponding every night this week, and I’d like to share some of what they wrote:
“In the most important times of our lives, so many parts of us come forward to help cope with the crisis. The mind, heart, spirit, soul want to help us – the animal that we are who is so lost – in whatever way that they can. Except we’re too devastated to sort things out, to give those parts direction, and so we reel around even more frightened by the energy in our body, by our old routines, by the world outside seeming to go on as if nothing has happened.
And so I will make a suggestion that I have found helpful that may be of use to you. There is a Father in you – not your father, but the one that is filled with that archetypal energy – who is very powerful, kind, just, and thoughtful. Let him take you in hand, the way you would if you had a child who needed you. Let him remind you before sleep and whenever you panic that Davyd is safe. Perhaps imagine him in his studio painting or see him traveling to places he loved. Remind yourself that you can rest while he’s doing these things, just as you would if he was physically there.
Allow yourself to imagine him near you when you need him – just as you felt him before. Do not deny yourself his company and comfort because he is no longer on this plane. Nothing but his company will do, and it isn’t fair to make yourself squash the longing for him.
None of this will give you what you so desperately want – to wake up and this to all have been the longest, worst nightmare of your life. But when times are this painful, sometimes we behave as though we must get things in hand in a rational, authoritative way. As though the world itself is ever rational or we ever have the authority that our fears tell us we need to be happy.
The terrible truth is we are all one moment away from losing whomever is most precious to us if we were blessed enough to find someone, and wise enough when they came to embrace them. And it seems to me that you both lived your life together as fully and consciously as you could. So, please be kind to yourself – let yourself feel his love and presence.
If you can use your imagination in all seriousness to open yourself to him and to what you need from him – and then allow your many parts to help realize these needs – you will be able to work through all of this together with his help. It isn’t fantasy or indulgence or madness, rather it is exactly the gentle love that you have always known with him, which filled your life for these many years together.
You don’t have to do it without him. You know him as well as you know yourself. And if you had died in an accident, would you ever have left him alone? Wouldn’t you be doing all you could to reach him and bring him comfort?
Each human being, if we are honest, is one big science experiment. Some people somatize life’s pain into cancer or other physical illness that breaks them down. Others have the kind of brain chemistry that will not allow them to keep thoughts moving, energy moving – they are forced to fixate to the point of such pain that they do not experience any equilibrium of emotion. We need to find the compassion in ourselves to realize how very vulnerable we all are to that which is beyond our control.
If he’d had terminal cancer and you could have said all the things you wanted to say to one another before he died. I’m going to guess that he would have told you that he would never leave your side, even if you couldn’t see him any longer. And you would have promised to allow yourself to feel him – to listen and watch for him – to go on sharing life as was possible.
He couldn’t tell you he wasn’t going to stay. He hid it from you to have one last time of happiness and for you to know how much he loved you. That is such a terribly painful thing to accept. But I feel certain from those photos of you, that he was trying to tell you how very much he loves you – to leave absolute evidence of his love
He seems like a person of tremendous physical energy – allow the energy that drove his body to reach you now.
The most important gift that you can be given in this life is the opportunity to love wholly and to grow in that love with another person. You are responsible for getting up every day with love in your heart and sharing your life with Davyd. No one knows what your life was really like except for the two of you -- and the people who have room to feel the radiance that surrounds such love.
Sadly, many people are so terrified of illness, death, and grief that it keeps them from giving and receiving deeply. And they are suspect of those who take the huge risk of giving oneself completely.
One of the most important books I ever read is Viktor Frankl's, "Man's Search for Meaning.” It is a meditation on the human drive to find meaning in this existence, and by doing so, to grow and endure, to transpose devastation into hope.
Frankl realized that he endured the concentration camps because of the love he felt for his wife. That it didn't matter whether she was alive or dead, that the love he felt for her gave him purpose in the most terrible and futile of places.
Also, one aspect of this masterwork of human experience that affected me most deeply was his recounting of the way he, and all the survivors, were treated with indifference or some version of, "we too have suffered", when they returned home. "A man who for years thought that he had reached the absolute limit of all possible suffering now found that suffering has no limits, and that he could suffer still more, and still more intensely."
In grief, each soul enters an altered state. I love Dostoyevsky's words, "May I be worthy of my suffering." When someone fully engages the truth of their pain, they honor the gift of love.
You are not responsible, as none of us are, for the choices of those whom you love. Rather love is an act of honoring their essential otherness. We cannot save one another -- for that is to deprive them from the depths of their own path and inner work.
That Davyd took his life is not his failure or yours. It is the very human response to the pain that became a poison inside of him. Anyone who cannot feel compassion for such a crucible is not able to look suffering in the face and see their own image.
Gather to yourself the happiest, most empowering moments of your loving life with Davyd -- celebrate them every single day. If cynicism ever gave anyone anything valuable then it would be worth the energy it takes to sustain it. But love is ever expanding if we allow it to follow its natural course. Loving Davyd made you love the world more, to be more fully alive in it, to stand amazed before the beauty that greets anyone who is willing to open their senses and heart.
Take all that love and keep it going -- love the world more for having given you someone of his quality. You will grieve and cry and the pain will be hardly comprehensible -- but it is the only choice if we wish to honor the gift of love.
You and Davyd stand for the center of all you believe to be holy and transcendent. You have the right to mourn his physical absence every single day. But allow no one to take from you the joy in your adoration of this amazing man, and let no one speak against his courage in fighting for as long as he did.
I celebrate your love more than I feel sorrow for his passing. Clearly, I mean this in the sense that love is always triumphant, and the particulars of loss are less important because it is always inevitable.
We are all terminal, but we are not all marked for great love. And not everyone who has the opportunity to love and be loved chooses it. Only the most courageous, the most determined to know the work and intricacies of love come to joy of the eternal sort.
Your love for Davyd is eternal, and I feel his love for you is eternal. That is all that matters...ever.
I am not writing in this vein to imply that you should not feel all the depths of loss and grief. Rather to express that as you do feel those things, you are honoring love not its loss.
When we step out of this body, from all reports, we are filled with all-encompassing love -- all-forgiving -- endless love. I take enormous comfort from that knowledge.
If you can imagine suddenly losing depth-perception, the world would still be 3-dimensional. Davyd is in that space between what you can see and what you know to exist.
Your drive to love him has taken you to places you never imagined existed, and this is just another place that you are going together. No one has to understand that or approve or affirm it -- your life will be a witness to the fruit that grows from your continued love of such a remarkable man. You will honor ever more deeply what was most important to him in the world, and all that he taught you.
You said in your note that you were "constantly colliding with your guilt and despair". I believe that, understandably, you are in shock and still making sense of the events. Still trying to track down the way back to the moment when you could have said or done something to change his mind.
But you are not, nor were you ever, the impetus for his life or death. You are the man who loved him and shared your life with him -- his husband. That is enough to feel, Norman. He always belonged entirely to himself.
As much as possible, please try to see and hear how he would react to your fear that you failed him. Imagine him there before you, and feel the manner with which he would implore you not to take that responsibility upon yourself. Such a gentle, kind, fine man would never allow you to believe you that you neglected him or failed him, therefore influencing his decision to leave his body.
Hold him close to you, Norman, with all the tender power you possess. You don't ever have to let go of loving him. You aren't holding his spirit back -- love such as yours is always a gift. The great spirit guides tell us time and again, there are only two choices: love and fear.
Every single time you feel lost and afraid, just say to yourself, "I choose love." And that statement, even if you have to repeat it again and again until you feel the shift, will help you stand up with your back straight and you will again be a vessel of love. The heart-broken and devastated vessel is a vessel of love, nonetheless.
Know that you are surrounded by love that has always been, and always will be, with you.”
Last night, as I was preparing this service, I received another message from this kind stranger. They sent a poem they’d written and I’d like to share it with you.
Symphony & Lamentation
- The Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, 1996
Mozart’s French horns hollow us
the way sorrow’s terrible days can.
As the oboes and cellos join
our chests inflate, like a lover trying
to fill the silence trailing loss
with uncertain murmurs and breath.
Eight violinists bowing in unison, your
trembling hand tightens around mine.
Then, percussion and ensemble led
by a rumbling piano. We are lost
to ourselves, useless to do anything
but go on enduring such sounds.
Finished, everyone on their feet,
beneath the sound of applause
I can’t find the sweet words of praise –
tactless and rent – I curse and choke.
At the center of companionship
is grace. Surprised, you turn to me,
and without shaming me, you take
my arm, kiss my face. We survive
even this, the way ecstasy devastates.
Ruins so beautifully our small lives
by making us, for a moment, more—
I thank you deeply for coming here today to honor this man. I have great friends. Davyd has great friends. And so, I take courage from this thought: Loving Davyd has made me love the world more, to be more fully alive in it, to stand amazed before the beauty before me, opening my senses and heart.
I find strength in the idea that there is order in the universe, amidst the chaos. The order is love. We are all just passing stardust anyway. Some, like Davyd, are beautiful comets, passing quickly in the sky, while some, like me, are slowly imploding stars. But all of it is beautiful and all of it is love.