After the Ham’s Gone
You might not know on first meeting that Gregory was gay, but if you hung out with him over a weekend it would not be long before his wry sense of humor and ability to see the joke in anything would be a tip off. Not that his gayness was an obstacle in his life, save for it barring him from the Lutheran ministry.
In some ways he found a better calling as a psychotherapist. His hazel eyes and strawberry hair gave him a boyish look. During the last year of his life he became focused on preparing a book titled “Reflections on the Ox Herding Pictures.” It was a commentary on the famous Zen paintings depicting a boy and an ox. The sequence is a parable about the struggle with the self on the path to enlightenment. Unable to actually tame the bull, the boy learns to coexist with the ego. Realization comes from reflection on Reality, in particular understanding how much we are receiving and how little one typically gives back.
Late in the spring of 1993 Gregory Willms died of complications from the AIDS virus. His soul slipped away as the morning star rose over the Santa Rosa hospital where his body lay. So many of Gregory’s friends had been lost to this blind sighted and unforgiving disease. He talked of the countless wakes and parties attempting to “make a celebration” out of the grim reality that scores of men had been snatched in their prime from lives of utility or artistry.
It was impossible to live in the Bay Area without being touched (often continually) by this plague. Gregory once remarked that his whole life outside of his therapy practice seemed to revolve around attending funerals and tribute parties. Everyone seemed to know what to do, what to say and what to bring to the party. Wine, elegant booze, homemade lasagna or other rich casseroles were safe bets. And the highly adaptable ham was always a good choice since it could be fried to pair with eggs, sliced to throw on a pumpernickel sandwich for lunch or julienned to add to a salad or macaroni casserole for dinner. The good ole Honey Baked Ham (which would set you back around $50) showed a level of respect that would be noted.
But the thing was, according to Gregory, the true issue or problem for friends, and friends of friends of those lost and those left behind, was “what to do after the ham’s gone.” One of these 12 lb puppies could easily last three to four weeks before the bone got tossed into a pea or lentil soup pot. If you recycled the best of the leftovers into the soup this could sustain a body for nearly another week before all remnants of the pig’s carcass was anywhere to be found in the kitchen. So, for the sake of poetry lets agree that “after the ham’s gone” is likely a month from the time of the “celebration” (so oddly named, it strikes me) until the ham bone hits the compost.
Now the question before us is: “What does one do, or what should one do for the bereaved after the ham’s gone?”
Gregory pointed out that most people had forgotten about the loss by then. Most of us have moved on. But the former lover may not have. What can you do to help? Another ham? No.
I think “After the ham’s gone” represents that opportunity we all have not to forget or lose track of someone who has gone through a trauma, shock or loss. It may be that “after the ham’s gone” is precisely when you need support, friendship, ideas, and invitations.
Is there someone in your life who may be hanging out A. T. H. G. right now? Think about it.
El Granada, CA
First published on this blog June 28, 2010