Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

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Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Brian Doyle

Writer. Age 60. Dead of a brain tumor discovered six months earlier.

Stark details, and too familiar. They don’t say anything about who Brian was. How he wrote in a way that made grown men drool and old women swoon clutching their rosaries. How he touched the lives of thousands of people who knew him or read his words. He was reverent and irreverent, often in the same sentence. Insightful. Optimistic. Funny. Stuffed full of heart and faith. An artist with words that stunned with their lyrical beauty.

Brian and I corresponded lightly over the last couple of years. This is not important because I suspect he did this with many people. He was generous this way.

My introduction to him began when I stumbled over his essay “Playfulness” near mine in the River Teeth Journal. I really liked it but, at that point, I didn’t spark to his name. I liked it so much that I began paging through my other journals and Best American anthologies to see if he had written anything else. He was in most of them, too. I had dog-earned those pages, but not remembered his name.

I thought this was funny, so I wrote about it and sent Brian a copy to make sure it was okay to publish. I figured he was a big fish in the essay world and didn’t want to piss him off. He wrote back, no caps: “o gawd that made me laugh.” With his blessing, the piece was published by Burlesque Press.

At the University of Portland, where he worked as editor-in-chief of the Portland Magazine, he also did things like sponsor the “Brian Doyle Scholarship in Gentle and Sidelong Humor.” As a nod back for all the times that he made me chuckle, I made donations to his cancer fund from the Brian Doyle Cricket Club, then the Hedge Trimmer Hobbits of the Whodunnit, the Ambidextrous Thinkers of America, the Hairy Kloggers of Laughter and Light, and finally the Troglodytes of Whimsy and Mercy.

Our last correspondence was over a book on the spirituality of nature that I was working on with a Montana photographer. I sent the text to Brian, he suggested a place to submit it, and offered to write a promo when the time came.

Brian knew the darkness of humanity, but he also celebrated its great, creative, and wondrous joy. He held fiercely to his faith in things unseen, believing that, even in the midst of the cruelest tragedies, the holy was still present, and that it was its mystery that holds us up until we are able to walk on our own again.

Now and then we discover someone who writes what takes our breath away, what props us up on bad days when despair threatens to drag us down, and makes us believe in goodness again. Then they’re gone. They’re always gone too soon.

“Writing is a time machine,” Brian said. I suppose that is why I continue to write about grief and dead people, having lost friends, parents, and a wife. Writing keeps them alive. Brian said, “writing gives death the finger.” So it does, and so do I.


  1. Thank you for sharing! I love your sense of humor and enjoy your blog!

  2. Wherever he is now, Mark, I hope your friend Brian is reading and enjoying this beautiful tribute you've written about him ~ and just so you know, your own writing does for all of us what his has done for you. Blessings to you, and thank you ♥

  3. a great player of words and emotions...returned to great unknown he loved...thank u

    1. You're welcome, Sue. I like to think that Brian is having the time of his life, and wishing he could write about it.