Grief takes on different natures as time goes on. When I lost Fr. Keon two years ago, I wasn’t sure how I was going to deal with things. Now, in honor of his talent at telling tall tales, I’m going to write a short fictionalized version of how I met Fr. Keon and how I said goodbye to him.
It began on a rainy afternoon in New York City. I was at my usual bus stop, waiting for the 7PM bus to take me back to my apartment in the Bronx. An old man sat next to me, reading Virginia Woolf’s Room With A View. As the bus came, I saw that he left his book on the bench as he went to get onto the bus. It was only 6:30, but I didn’t care. I grabbed the book and ran on the bus, chasing after him. I found him sitting at a window seat.
“Excuse me, sir,” I said after paying my bus fare. “You forgot your book.”
He looked up at me and smiled. I had to wonder how old this guy was. What was he doing out in the city so late? “Oh, thank you, miss. Would you care to sit down?”
I nodded and sat down next to him, putting my backpack in front of me. He took the book and put it in his lap.
“I don’t usually see you on this bus route,” I said. “What were you doing at Fordham University?”
“I used to teach there,” he said. “I was visiting some friends.”
“Oh cool!” I said. “I’m a student there right now. I take classes in the Manhattan campus but I live over in the Bronx.”
“What do you study?” he asked.
“I’m a theatre student. It’s a New York cliche, I know, but I want to make it big on Broadway someday.”
“Oh I love Broadway. I always see the latest plays.”
“But the tickets are so expensive.”
“Not if you have a press pass.” He took out his wallet and showed his old ID from the New York Times.
“You wrote for the Times?”
“Published a couple books, too,” he said. “You might recognize my articles from the op-ed section and editorials. I’m Fr. James Keon.”
“Monique Ocampo,” I said.
Fr. Keon lived in an apartment building for retirees with a bunch of other old men. It turned out to be in a nearby neighborhood from where I lived.
Before I knew it, Fr. Keon became an essential part of my daily routine. Even though he was retired, Fr. Keon still published collections of short stories and made an effort to go out into the city everyday. We would have lunch together whenever he visited campus and even got to see a couple of Broadway musicals together. My friends teased me about how I was going out with an older man, but I paid them no mind. Fr. Keon had a family, anyway. They just all lived in Canada.
It was during his latest trip to Niagara Falls a couple of years ago that I found out about his accident. He collapsed while walking on a bridge overlooking the falls and died in the hospital. Old age caught up to him. And yet it felt so sudden. Death always seems sudden to those who don’t expect it.
By that time, I was already in my last year of college. I begged and pleaded with the director and stage manager of the play I was in to let me go to Canada for his funeral, but in theatre the show must go on. We were performing Our Town and I played the role of the stage manager, the narrator of the play. When I waited in the wings, I watched my friends talk about the nature of death and wished that I was up in Niagara Falls to say goodbye.
I got my chance during the winter break. Canada was so cold, colder than New York. It was a weird juxtaposition. Christmas lights everywhere and yet I was there to say goodbye instead of saying “Hello” to family members.
I found his gravestone after asking the director of the local funeral home. He told me that a lot of people came for Fr. Keon’s funeral. He had a huge family, many friends, and fans of his writings, after all.
Standing by his gravestone felt strange. I couldn’t see his sweet smile or smell the tuna fish sandwich he always loved eating. I laid my card out at the grave. Inside, the card read: “Some infinities are bigger than other infinities. I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity.”
I went out to the falls, which were still flowing mightily despite the temperatures being below freezing. It was a glorious sight to see at night. I looked up at the stars and smiled, knowing that my friend was now there.