When I heard that Mike Leff was in the hospital for advanced cancer, I knew I wanted to get him a card. After all, he was the nice, Hawaiian t-shirted academic who had made me feel so at easy during my initiation into the world of rhetorical academia this summer at the RSA institute. I liked him a lot and wanted to let him know that I was thinking of him, so I went down to bookstore with all the cash in my wallet to look for a card for him.
Turns out all of the get-well cards assume two things: (1) You're not well because of either injury or virus and (2) you're going to get well. I didn't know that he was. Some of the cards were too flippant--hope this sexy nurse fixes you up, har, har--and others were too sentimental--a sleepy-looking puppy, I recall. It reminded me of an article I had just read in the New Yorker about what bad grievers we are in this society--extremely uncomfortable with the idea of death before it happens and somehow expected to get right over it once it comes to our loved ones. The card selection reflected this. Not that I'm looking for a wide selection of "I'm sorry you're dying" cards, but if we trust a card to express our tenderest feelings of love (and, with Valentine's coming up, there were plenty of those), couldn't someone make a sort of pre-sympathy card for those who know that they're on the way out? I even considered a "farewell" card briefly, but it seemed entirely too grim, especially because I wasn't sure of his prognosis. Besides, the farewell card was black.
Finally I settled on a some-what old-fashioned image of two bean-people that had the words "Bean thinking of you" written below. It seemed just weird enough to not be discouraging without being too cheeky, but, as it turned out, I was 18 cents of sales tax short, so I told myself I'd buy one after class.
Checking my email before class so that I could open up my students' reading quiz, I noticed Jack Selzer had sent a message informing us that Mike passed away suddenly. "Oh my gosh," I said out loud, and the students who were there early looked up, but didn't ask any questions. Still, I was staggered and was grateful to have the time it took for them to take a quiz so that I could regain my composure.
Sent a card today. Just a blank one with a landscape on the front. Turns out it's just condolences.