The first thing I did was Google it. If it was a hoax, some kind of sick joke, someone would have spotted it and called it out–probably with a headline beginning with “Don’t Worry, Guys”–and it would be all right. The world would turn on as it should. There was no such headline, though, and no such person. “terry pratchett dead” only turned up more articles like the one I had just read, no one told me not to worry, and the world became a little darker. A cloud moved over the sun, and stayed. We will have to be content with less light now.
I did not gasp, or weep, or shake my fist at the sky. I looked at my partner across the room. “So…Terry Pratchett’s dead.” My mouth was dry. They made a little noise between a gasp and a cry. “Yeah,” I said. We sat in silence. There was nothing else to say. He has always said everything so well.
Later, when they left to run errands and I was alone in the apartment, I read more. I read the announcements coming in, the things people were saying about the man who had meant so much to all of us. And what they said–what I saw–were stories. They told stories. We…told stories. We repeated his words, the ones we had learned by heart, and we wrote our own. We wrote about Death, his own beloved anthropomorphic personification of our fears, and how he had come to Sir Terry Pratchett in his last hours. Speaking as he always had, in ALL CAPS WITH NO QUOTATION MARKS, Death had spoken to him, gently, respectfully. He greeted Death as an old friend, and they went together into the dark.
Then I allowed myself to cry–ugly, unpretentious sobs. No less than he deserved. Sir Pratchett told us–told me–that stories matter, and we believed him so entirely that we knew no other fitting way to say goodbye to him. We want to believe that Death really did come for him, his own Death that we have all secretly hoped will come for us when it’s our turn, and that the end was peaceful and dignified. We tell the story because stories are still our best way of making sense of the senseless. We tell it because we don’t know that it’s not true. We tell it because it is, because we tell it. He had been there for me–for us–when we most needed him, taken us by the hand when we were lost and told us that the story has rules, the story has strength, that the story will go on even when everything conspires to destroy it. That we are part of it, and you are part of it, and I. That we keep it alive in the telling. Even if everything is dark and terrible, even if we can’t see the good, it matters that we believe it exists. “It matters,” he told us, taking our shaking hands in his. “It matters.”
I’m crying now as I write this. It’s not enough. It’s not enough, and I never said thank you. I’ve said nothing about how his characters gave me things to aspire to, and to fear becoming. I’ve said nothing about the dry absurdity that made my mother laugh so hard on the bus through a dodgy part of town that she had to close the book in case someone sitting near her took offense. I cried, then I laughed at my cat, now I write and I cry again. When I know how, I’ll write him a story to say goodbye. I don’t know whether he would have approved, but I hope he would have. I don’t know whether he knew how much brighter our lives are because he lived, but I hope he did.