Three weeks after the funeral, I was sitting in Peter and Christian's kitchen having lunch with them. It had begun to rain in the morning so I had stopped work early and we had gone to have Mark's picture framed. It was now on the table before me. I was going to hang it next to my bunk, where his smile would be the first thing I saw in the morning and the last thing I saw at night.
For a while we shared happy memories of Mark. I told them about my final message from Mark, how he had written that he wanted me to find somebody new to love.
"That's wonderful," said Peter, "but be sure you don't look for Mark's clone. And don't seek someone who's perfect. After all, Mark was human so by definition he wasn't perfect."
I nodded thoughtfully. Then I asked, "What's the music playing on your stereo now?"
Christian said, "It's Schubert's Unfinished Symphony."
I thought a moment or two and then asked, "What's an unfinished symphony?"
"Well," he said, "most symphonies written in Schubert's time had four movements. The Unfinished Symphony has only two. He sketched out a third movement but never completed it. Nobody knows why he decided to leave it the way it was. Perhaps he felt it was complete in itself. "
"Do you mind if we just listen for a few minutes?" Neither of them did, so we sat in silence, finishing our meal as the second movement began. Listening quietly, I thought about Mark. At the conclusion of the movement, the music grew quieter and quieter, ending in a serene final chord which seemed to fade into nothing.
Our silence continued until finally I broke it. "The symphony reminds me a lot of my relationship with Mark. First of all, we thought it would go on a lot longer, but fate cut it short. So in one way, it's finished, but in another way, it's not. Second, the ending is so much like Mark's final minutes. It just grows quieter and quieter until it ends so peacefully. That's just the way he died."
After more silence, Christian said, "It's too bad we didn't think of it sooner. We could have had it played at his funeral."
"I'm glad we didn't," I responded. "I'd rather keep it as a private image, something I will think about every time I hear the symphony. I think I need to buy the CD."
They would hear none of that but insisted on giving me the disc. Then Peter asked me how I was doing, and I told them that I was making progress slowly. I said, "You know, when I'm working here, I look over at Mark's patio and expect to see him sitting there. When things happen, I automatically think, I need to remember to tell Mark about that. He's still very much in my mind, but often in a more peaceful way than three weeks ago. Sometimes I feel selfish and self-centered. I even feel angry at Mark for leaving me, and then I realize how stupid that is. I can't imagine how the Russells feel or what it's like to lose your only child. I wish I knew how to help them."
Christian said, "First of all, it's not stupid to feel angry. It may be irrational but it's not stupid. You're a smart boy and you realize the irony of feeling that way, but it's a very natural reaction which will pass in time. As for helping the Russells, visit them; keep in touch with them. You'll remind them of Mark, of course, but they'll be good memories to share. That should help all of you."
Peter added, "Richard, some day you should write about everything that happened. You wouldn't need to share it with anybody else unless you wanted to, but I find that writing is very good therapy."
I thanked him, knowing that I wasn't nearly ready yet to do that but thinking that someday I might.
Mrs. Russell had invited me to drop over to their house when I finished working. Grandma would pick me up there. I walked over through the drizzle and rang the bell. Mrs. Russell opened the door, smiled, and invited me in. She knew that I liked coffee, and she had some freshly brewed. She poured some and we sat at the kitchen table.
As everybody seemed to be doing lately, she asked me how I was holding up. I gave her the same answer I had given Peter and Christian, telling her a little more about the message that Mark had left for me. Then I told her about working in the yard and expecting to see Mark there.
"I know," she said. "That's happening all the time to me. I still go to his bedroom to say good night. I still expect to hear his footsteps coming down the stairs in the morning."
"I've been wondering something," I said. "You spent so much time taking care of Mark, what do you do with all that time now?"
"A good question. At first I just sat. I did a lot of crying. For the first week, I couldn't look at anything of his without bursting into tears. Mark's father has his job, and I envy him that, although he too certainly is grieving for Mark.
"A few days ago as I was sitting here, I suddenly said to myself, 'Mary, that's enough. Yes you're sad, but you need to get on with your life. Mark wouldn't want you sitting around doing nothing.'
"That was right, of course. The first thing I did was go to his bedroom and pack up the books for you and Joey. Naturally, I cried all through it, but doing it was therapeutic. I began to think of what I might do with my life. When we were at the hospital, I spent a lot of time observing the nurses and the wonderful care they gave those children. So, I've decided to become a pediatric nurse. Mark's father is all for it. I went on line and found courses I could take to get started. I can go to the college here to work towards a degree. I don't think I could ever bear to work at Dana Farber, it has too many memories, but I could work in one of the hospitals here. So that's what I'm planning to do."
"I think that's wonderful. Mark would too, I know."
We talked more, sharing good memories, until my grandmother came. I loaded the boxes of books in the car and gave Mrs. Russell a hug.
"Remember," she said, "you're part of our family as well as your own. Do come often."
"I will," I promised and got into the car.
So I began a new life. I never told anybody that I'm still praying, sending regular messages to Mark in the hopes that, wherever he is, he receives them. It took time for me to get interested in life again, but eventually I did, picking up my work at school, swimming whenever I could, reading Mark's books, and doing some writing. As Christian had said, "Whether we like it or not, life does go on."