In the days after Whit's passing I was fortunate to have a group of close, empathetic friends around me. Right then it occurred to someone that this core of people represented what could be truly called Super Friends in the same sense as Whit applied it to his own friends and the blog itself. We have gathered twice since then, most recently this past weekend at my sister Carolyn's home in northern Ohio. It's a time to remember Whit and reaffirm the bonds we feel between each other.
One of the Super Friends also invited two of her brothers to the gathering. Although I had never met the brothers, the knowledge that one of them lost a son to a heroin overdose a couple of years ago made it natural to include them. Rafe (Raphael) and I felt an immediate bond, and will soon be sharing things about our sons with each other - poems "Little Rafie" had written, a printed copy of Whit's blog for Rafe.
I had wanted to do something special for this 2nd gathering, and found just the thing at a nearby micro-winery. In addition to making and selling wine under their own label, they offer the chance to make and bottle your own, including all the instruction, materials and equipment. After 8 weeks of fermentation, my brother Emory and I bottled and labeled our results last week and were able to give a bottle to each Super Friend. The label I designed is based on a photo I took for Whit in 1998. He and I were on the way back to Howe Military School, where he attended 8th grade, when he noticed a weeping willow tree next to a pond on someone's property. He was so drawn to this scene that he made me get off the road and backtrack to take a photo. I never did learn exactly what it was about this that drew him to that image so spiritually, but I had kept a print to give him when he got home from Terre Haute. Now it seemed like a fitting basis for the wine label. The symbolism is there on many levels of course, including the obvious one of loss and grief common to several cultures; just consider the book The Weeping Willow: Encounters With Grief which appeared in 2007.
I'm attaching an image of the label.
There will be more gatherings of the Super Friends. The next one will be here in Cincinnati, and I extend an invitation to anyone who felt especially close to Whit. Just contact me.