It took me a couple of months to notice my magazines had run out.
When John died unexpectedly over two years ago, his wife, Arlene, kept receiving magazine subscriptions he had obviously just renewed. Knowing I was a fan of both The New Yorker and Walrus, she just dropped them off to me when they arrived. Somewhere, in some databank, John lived on; magazines unaware that once the din of dying passes, it is things like this that will press on the wound.
There was an odd little twist of sadness that came with the comfort of seeing his name on a regular basis. The real knife thrust of losing someone you love is these small things: phone messages, address labels, the sudden hollow when you stumble over the word, “we”.
I learned after my parents died about the slap of automatic renewals. In the early raw moments I didn’t want reminders of a life that was lost to me, but I’ve learned that random bits and scraps, in time, become welcome.
When he was alive, John would give me the magazines after he’d read them. We’d often discuss articles because the only thing better than reading something great is giving that joy to someone else. Christopher, at 21, acutely misses John, who was his only real grandfather figure. It is no surprise to me that he also reads these magazines, though I’ve never asked him if he notices John’s name on the cover, if he feels the same pang. Christopher and I recommend things to each other, as we miss the man together yet separately.
In the months following his death, Arlene and I both wondered how long the magazines would keep coming. I buy magazines at the airport or when I have an extra few bucks. Subscriptions are a smart way to commit, a gift amidst the bills and the only way the Letters to the Editor section ever makes any sense. John and I would even discuss these notes, insight into others who read what we did.
Six months in, Arlene was still handing them to me with a smile and a shrug. Over a year later, when we were christening a school with John’s name, the magazines kept coming. We were laughing at this model of planning she’d married, a man so optimistic he must have renewed these magazines even after he got sick. I told her once she could just cancel them, but she looked at me in astonishment and asked why she would do that, and I kept finding them in my mailbox. It takes a wonderful kind of person to see beyond their own grief and extend a lifeline of compassion to another.
This school year ended with the first graduating class from John W. Boich Public School in Burlington. I watched the collection of high school-bound kids cross the stage, girls sparkling and grown up and boys pulling faces for the camera, a gymnasium full of family and friends cheering them on. It was hard not to watch through my own Grade 8 eyes; it was harder still not to see it through John’s.
It reminded me, though, that I’m finally able to surrender my tangible tie to John, those address labels every month. The man will never be far from the hearts in my home, and seeing those kids bursting with promise reminded me of the many ways a life well lived can carry on.
Maybe Arlene and I were the only two surprised at just how long those subscriptions went on. Maybe John planned it just this way.