TO CHILDHOOD FRIENDS
Standing in the line to go into the church, I came across a young woman I hadn’t seen in awhile. We affectionately recognized each other as we made our way to the guest book together talking about the sad and sudden funeral we were about to be a part of. Random conversations between the awkward silence of a funeral line have a loudness to them that is almost contradictory. Cremation versus burial was a brief topic. “How’s your son?” she asked me followed by “Where are you working these days? I asked her. Lightness to the questions trying to fill the time and space of the sadness. “How do you know the now deceased?” I asked her. She asks me the same and these become part of the typical types of conversation that happens in a funeral line easing for only a moment the time spent in it. She asks me the same and we continue until we reach the guest book where we sign our name and address that likely no one will look at again at least in the near future. The thing about guest books at a funeral is that you think you want to know and remember each and every person who attended, but in all reality your grief takes over afterwards and memories of the funeral of a forty seven year young woman overshadow. One moment she is sharing her life with everyone who knew her, sistering her sibling, daughtering her parents, mothering her children, working with her peers and being a childhood friend to her childhood friend, Jane for over forty years. One day she is here then within a few short months she is diagnosed with a rare heart condition and she is no longer.
When you have been blessed to keep a childhood friend for most of your life, the loss is almost unbearable. Even more than a sibling loss, because siblings you inherit by being born together, a childhood friend is a choice you make to keep this person in your realm. They know your depths like no other. A childhood friend is someone you can be all truth with- vulnerable, weak, honest, painfully direct at times exchanging advice whether we ask for it or not. Daily visits if you live close by or daily phone calls if you don’t. Texting “are you awake?” when you both know it is past each others bedtime but need some power and love from the other during a down turn in emotion. Sharing life’s events-jobs, moves, relationships, family bullshit, beauty advice, book discussions, movies, music, work problems and joys- this list never ends because there is never a time when you run out of things to say or feel. The love is so deep it is almost on the same level you feel for your own child or children.
I watched my dear friend, Jane have to struggle with the pain of such intense loss as she buried her best friend, Thelma at Thelma’s funeral this past weekend. I thought about my own childhood friend, Melissa who I have had the privilege of friendship since we met in sixth grade when I first moved to Jamestown, RI in 1976. I thought about the times we are so close it almost hurts thinking about our connection and I felt Jane’s pain from the luxury of my own view. Our friends are not supposed to die in our young worlds but they do. The anticipation of the emptiness I would feel in losing my friend, Melissa is an unbearable notion. Childhood friends know the insides of our homes, the traumas and the dramas, the successes and the failures. It would be like losing all of your most precious photos in a fire; you can never get that history back, it goes with the loss when they die.
Being at Thelma’s Catholic funeral this past weekend and all of the discussion of going home to Jesus didn’t seem comforting to me in any way. Perhaps it is not supposed to in this early time of grief. Perhaps it is more of a seed planting for the time in the future when you can smile again. I watched my friend Jane, through the eyes of my friendship with Melissa and her loss had depths of despair she didn’t even know yet. Priests and Rabbis can say life remembrances and back to God in all of their sermons, but the profound loss of a best friend way too young can never be comforted. There is no time limit on grief- there is also no fairness in its world. A smiley, bright, shiny personality who brightened the energy of the people she came in contact with is no longer the north star of the people she knew and loved. The only brightness is the selfish reminder to people like me who still get to share the life of their own childhood friend and to not take them for granted. This is the only light I see for a life much too young to leave us so soon.
I love my best friend Melissa more than I think I could ever love a sister I never got to have within the pockets of my clothes. Her friendship I always carry proudly and with honor. The only gift I can give to my friend Jane besides my own friendship (and flowers from my garden and the home baked brownies she loves) is to never stop the deep appreciation I have for my own dear childhood friend. If this is one speck of light because of her own loss then Thelma’s young passing had at least some random significance. I hope the specks of light turn into sparks and the sparks turn into stars in the dark sky that is everyone’s grief right now. I hope the stars in that dark sky turn into a bright sun at some point. For now though I know it is too soon to even consider the possibility.
But the darkness always turns to light and this is the anticipation of comfort I know for sure.