We are away from home when I get the news.
We have been friends for forty five years, and now in a blur of words on my computer screen, I learn that she has gone. I will never hear her voice again on the phone, never hug her or see her smile. All that, gone.
There are words for the survivors of a death in the family, words that carry the weight of bereavement and loss. For a friend, loved and mourned and missed, there is no formal word to recognize these emotions.
I think about this while I stare at the computer screen. I’m notorious for never having my cell handy or even on, so my friends—all from the same Book Club that has been a strong bond for all those forty years and more—have tracked me down this way. They grieve, too, but they are together up North and have each other, while I am here with my memories.
We were young when we met, strangers, mothers of small children. We were searching for ways to connect to other women through a love of books. Our Book Ckub became a tight knit group, a supportive and caring sisterhood, and friendships grew and flourished.
Forty plus years hold many memories. In the kaleidoscope of hindsight, scenes shift and blur in my mind. I watch babes in arms and see them grew. I watch again as our group experiences widowhood and marriage and death—laughter and tears that coalesce into a deeper appreciation of each other. Then the memories narrow to us two, my Friend and I with our youngsters at the lake, talking and laughing with the golden sun bright around us.
We watched each other’s children; we met and liked each other’s mothers; we commiserated with problems and laughed at the absurdities of adolescent teens. And we applauded those teens going away to college and beginning their careers.
In forty five years the world has changed and changed again, and we perforce have changed with it. My Friend did not have an easy life, and the hand dealt to her was challenging. In tandem with other problems, ill health dogged her but she faced that down. In fact, she overcame everything with determination and raw courage. She had a valiant heart and never acknowledged the word ‘defeat.’ And she never lost her smile.
My Friend—how I miss her, writing this.
In due course, our lives shifted. Mike and I moved to North Carolina while she and the rest of my (still ongoing, still much loved) Book Club remained in Massachusetts. Even so, we remained close. We visited. We talked. We laughed. She rejoiced with me when my boys were married, and she and her husband flew down south for one day to celebrate our golden wedding anniversary with us. And oh, when her son and daughter took their separate marriage vows, such high jinks! I can still see my sisters of Book Club, holding hands and singing together, all of us happy and full the exuberance of being alive.
Then came grandchildren. My Friend was the quintessential grandmother, basking in those bright new lives as though they were her sun, moon and stars. But, always physically frail, she grew more fragile still. The last time I saw her was when Mike and I traveled up North this September. She was so thin, but when she smiled, she was radiant. And as we hugged each other she whispered, “It’s good to have you back again.”
Neither of us were in that moment the young, energetic strangers who had met almost half a century ago, for we had both been tested and honed and shaped by the passing years. We were both much older, and our youthful dreams had been altered by life and circumstance. But I believe that what was most important was not what we were but what we had become; two dear friends bound together by memories and realities and an abiding affection.
No blood tie links us together, so there is no formal word for the sorrow I feel. No, no blood line binds us as I say goodbye to you, my Friend—only the lines that lead to the heart.