am angel sitting on a gravestone
am angel sitting on a gravestone

A Thank You

Paul Kiernan

Recently, one of our copywriters lost his father and brother. His thank you to us for our concern and support is something we want to share with you in hopes that it helps you see life in a different way.

I wanted to take a moment and say thank you to everyone for your kindness and patience during this time of shocking loss. If you’re not aware, my Father and my Brother died very recently, less than a month apart. My father was 88 but healthy and died peacefully, as I was told, in his sleep. My brother went through some horrific nightmare of dying, being revived, being on a ventilator, dying again, being revived again, returning to this side of the earth, and finally letting go and moving on to the next part of his journey.

I am now the only member of my family living, and it is a strange world to occupy. My mother died six years ago, so I remain the last.

People have been wonderfully attentive, asking how I am and all that. I understand it’s somewhat more problematic for those not grieving to communicate with the grieving party. What do you say? People at my father's service kept saying how sorry they were, which caused me, a perpetual punk, wise-ass, to accuse those saying they were sorry of being complicit in my father’s demise. Which looked like this:

Father’s Friend: I’m so sorry.

Me: Are you saying you killed my father?

Father’s Friend: What? No! I loved your father; I’d never … I … I

All of which made me laugh but upset a number of people not familiar with me. I did the same thing at my Mother’s funeral, and my father laughed into his pocket every time.

For me, it is more than just the loss of the people who I grew up with, the people who shaped me, and the people I call my family. It is the loss of language.

A hand sticking out of water under a dark sky

If you’re unfamiliar with me, and there’s no reason you should be familiar with me, I am a writer. I love the written word; I love the spoken word when it’s spoken well.

Eliezer Ben-Yehuda is often credited as the man who brought Hebrew back to Isreal, a language that was going the way of Latin, but he brought it back to life. I have always been fascinated by this story and stories of people who have died and whose language was wiped from the face of the earth.

We all have languages we speak. Be it English or Portuguese or Spanish, or Finnish … who am I kidding the Fins don’t even speak Finnish. The point is, apart from the languages we speak in everyday life, we also have a lexicon of languages we speak with the people close to us.

Married folks have their language; school friends have a language; we at ThoughtLab have languages between us. Inside jokes, phrases that we use with the people we work with. I had languages I spoke with my mother, father, and brother. Shorthand that encompassed where I come from, Boston, and life events we shared. Things that we could say to each other that no one but us understood. It was how we identified as a tribe.

We know our tribes by the languages we speak. And we all speak thousands of languages. Think about it for a moment; think about friends and family; think about how you communicate, and think about how that language connects you and makes you a part of a whole. Think about the time when you’ve been away from your tribe, and then you see someone again; how you greet them, the words you use, are usually unique to your tribe. It’s who you are and how you know where you’re most understood and accepted.

I have recently lost three languages in my life, and that means when it comes to my family, I am speechless. I have no tribe. I have all these words in my pockets that no one will understand. Now, at the end of the day, when I put pocket change in the jar, all these words spill out, words that I will never use again. Right now, I feel desperately alone, and no amount of kindness or condolences can change that; it is the fact I have to go forward with, I have lost languages. I can no longer communicate with my tribe.

a man walking to the end of a pier to the water

What’s the fucking point of this, Paul? You should be asking. Go ahead; I’ll wait. The point is, we often wonder about famous people and their last words as if that can sum up their entire life. But what about the last words we say to a friend, someone we’re in a fight with, or a loved one we’re arguing with? What about those last words?

What about first words? The first greeting of the day. The greeting of a stranger. The greeting of a new co-worker.

What about all the words in between? When we’re talking to clients. When we’re talking to potential partners, dates, lovers, and docents at the aquarium, who cannot give me a reasonable answer when I ask, why can’t I share this reduced-for-quick-sale rump roast with this pool of sharks?

Words are weapons; words are angels; words are identifiers, comforters, lifters, praisers, and much much more. We throw them around like we’ll never run out of them. And, truth is, we won’t run out of words, but we will run out of listeners.

I have no great “The passing of my family has made me see that …” message. I just want you to know that I am struggling with words right now. I am not handling the daunting task of letting go of words and phrases, knowing what they meant to me, and understanding that their meaning is now gone forever.

If I had to leave you with something, and I really don’t have to, no one is holding a gun to my head and screaming, “More pith, this is totally pithless.” I’d leave you with, be purposeful with your words. They matter. Be aware of your languages. Be aware of your tribes. And, if you can, preserve some of your languages and share them.

Going forward, I assure you all that I am going to strive to do the work as best I can, but for now, I am having a bit of a battle with words.

Thank you.