It has been a year since the loss of one of the dearest friends of my lifetime. I wanted to write a few words.
My friend was named Marissa. We met in early 2013. It was not long before we discovered that we were both obsessive fans of the band Rush (because of that there might be a reference or ten in this post). One of my first memories of our budding friendship was when I posted on social media something about Rush (as is my custom) and she commented “Rush is the best band on the planet!” We found we had shared interests about many things and common values about life—everything from literature to advocacy and care for those with mental illness. In our brief seven-year friendship, we grew close and I think I would describe the core of our friendship as a deep mutual respect.
On June 1, 2020 I was informed that she had died. She was only 42. Marissa was healthy. She exercised rigorously, ate well, and took care of herself in every way. It was a random freak accident, in her own residence no less, that ended her life. She had moved in the first part of the year to Colorado. When we could, we would occasionally talk, text, or video chat. After the Covid-19 pandemic began, we made it a point to video chat every week or two. We had just discussed scheduling another shortly before the accident. Time is always precious, though it often takes such tragedies to remind us. As a line well known to we Rush fans says: “Suddenly you were gone/from all the lives you left your mark upon” (from the song Afterimage on the album Grace Under Pressure).
Rush composed a song titled Nobody’s Hero that was on their 1993 Counterparts album. In a Rock Icons documentary about bassist and vocalist Geddy Lee, Lee said the song “is about the people that go missing from our lives and their disappearance from the world that seems like a crime.” That sums up my loss of Marissa. She went missing from the lives of those who loved her; to those of us who knew her and her goodness, her disappearance seemed like a crime. But as the song says, in this big wide world she was “nobody’s hero.” She was not the “handsome actor who plays the hero’s role.” She was not famous and known to the world. She simply lived her life always finding time to find the good in others and to do good to others—human others and non-human others as well (I think her closest companions were her “snow dogs” and felines). She was an extraordinary person who made being so seem ordinary, like the musician who can play extremely complicated parts with effortless ease.
As the song says, “When I heard that she was gone, I felt a shadow cross my heart…”
The last in-person time I had with her was in January of 2020, right before she moved to Colorado. On January 10th, we learned that Rush drummer and lyricist, Neil Peart, had succumbed to brain cancer (glioblastoma) just a few days before on the 7th. Rush fans worldwide felt a shadow cross their hearts. I had been in the midst of painting my home. One evening, as my fiancée Alison and I were painting the walls of my kitchen, Marissa came by and gave us a hand. The three of us took a moment to raise a toast to “The Professor” (one of Neil Peart’s many nicknames). I grabbed my guitar and we sang Closer to the Heart—if you can call what I was doing singing, anyway. The following morning, Alison and I met Marissa for breakfast at a favorite place for coffee and crêpes. Although I would talk to her and see her via technological means several times after, that was the last time I hugged my dear friend. One never knows when the last chance to hug a friend will come and be gone. I take none of them for granted.
Our last interaction was on May 15, 2020. We were texting and planning our next video chat for that weekend. We did not determine a specific time and agreed to touch base that weekend. I do not remember why, but for whatever reason I did not reach out to her and neither did she contact me. I messaged her midweek on May 20. My message, which I have not deleted, still shows unread. I did not think much about not hearing from her, because we would sometimes stay in touch regularly and other times weeks might go by before we would talk. No big deal. Then I got the message on June 1 about what had happened. There are no words for that feeling that so many of us have felt at the unexpected loss of someone dear.
I have a million or so memories that I hold dear. Many of those are concerts we were at together. We had not met yet, but we realized that our first known concert together was Rush’s Clockwork Angels tour in Dallas in November 2012 (that show was filmed for the tour BluRay/DVD). We were yet to meet for a few months, but we were both there. Along with some others, we were at Rush’s R40 tour at the same venue in Dallas. The very last show we went to together was the Judas Priest/Uriah Heep tour when it came through Dallas and we got the chance to go backstage and meet Uriah Heep, pictured here:
The world is remarkably small sometimes. I was not aware of it, but after Neil Peart’s passing from this life (see my post on that here), Marissa had commissioned a painting from artist and Rush fan, Kelly D of Vital Visions Art by Kelly D. The painting was to be of Neil surrounded by many of his lyrics that have inspired we Rush fans our entire lives. I follow Vital Visions Art on Facebook and one day saw Kelly D post about the painting (nearing completion) and how she had just heard about Marissa’s death. Kelly D was another life that Marissa had touched with her goodness and she—Kelly D—expressed her sorrow at hearing the news. I reached out to Kelly D as I was certain the Marissa she spoke of was one in the same as my friend. We exchanged a few messages about Marissa. I mentioned the exchange to another of my dearest friends (who is about to be my best man at my wedding next month) and being the kind of person he is, he contacted Kelly D and purchased the painting for me as a gift. So what Marissa had originally commissioned now resides with me as it awaits to be framed in the near future. What an immeasurable gift.
I am blessed to have many friends. I have always liked to think of myself as an individual who prefers a few close friends to a lot of superficial acquaintances. While I still think that way, I cannot deny that looking around I am blessed with many friends who are anything but superficial. Some I have lost. The loss of Marissa will always leave its permanent mark. But how fortunate am I to have known her and how fortunate am I to have such good friends—some near some far—still here. My friend and colleague, Brian Treanor, Professor of Philosophy at Loyola Marymount University, recently published a book, Melancholic Joy: On Life Worth Living, which I have found to be a timely and important book. Although there is, as Brian says in the book (referring to the final words of Vincent Van Gogh according to his brother, Theo) “sadness that will last forever,” there is also joy that remains. The challenge of life is to live in that joy while inevitably and beyond choice living in the sadness that comes. Anyone who knew Marissa knows that she lived in that joy in the face of every challenge. That is the Marissa I will always remember. It’s a measure of a life…