Sunday, 10 January 2016

The Death of a Childhood Friend



I learned today that a dear childhood friend of mine died suddenly on the first day of this bright, hopeful new year.  She had just turned 36 years old two days before she died.  Her Facebook page was brimming first with cheerful happy birthday messages and then filled with somber messages of grief and heartbreak.

We were friends during grade school but had had no contact aside from an occasional like or comment here and there on Facebook in the intervening years.

Having had no close contact with her for so many years now, I don't want to try to claim a share in a grief that doesn't rightfully belong to me, a grief reserved for her heartbroken family and for those strong, cherished friendships she has built at this stage of her life.

Yet learning of her death shocked me.  I am deeply sorry to hear of it.

It sends my mind tumbling backward to long summer days and long evening phone calls.  To being a girl with a best friend.  To sleep overs and laughter and whispered secrets.  To notes left in lockers and giggling in class.  To posing for grainy photos on the porch in homemade Halloween costumes, grinning at the camera with pillowcases full of candy in our hands.  To comparing our puffy sleeved taffeta Christmas dresses and the magic of school Christmas concerts each year.  To skating at the community hall rink on New Year's Eve.  To childhood and young adolescence and small town innocence.

As it happens I don't remember the last time I saw her.  I don't have a clear memory of ever saying good bye.  We had several years of good friendship and then naturally drifted apart.  Such is life, but the friends of our childhoods rarely leave us entirely.  They stay in our hearts and heads.  They live on in the memories we speak of to our own children.

People die at all ages.  There is no guarantee that just because we are young, we will have many more years to do all we hope to do.  That we will have the great gift of time.  That we will be given the time to grow into the selves we wish to become.

I always imagine myself growing quite old.  Wrinkled and wise, after a full complete life.  I imagine I will have had the time to make things right, make amends, grow past my mistakes.  I see myself in the future easily.  I see being forgiven for the things I have done wrong because I will have a whole life ahead of me to make up for these things.

I see myself now and all the things I worry about.  All the things that drive my actions and thoughts. The petty competitions and jealousies.  The unkind words I can make up for tomorrow.  The impatience for the future, for the next adventure, the next big thing when what do I have before me now if not my life's "big thing"?  Two little boys looking up to me with love shining in their eyes.  A husband who loves me, a safe home, good health, numerous possibilities and freedoms.

I see the way I try to define myself.  The care I give to my clothing.  The way I get discouraged that I have gained weight.  The small things I focus on.  The books I have read, the shows I watch, the places I have traveled to that maybe give me this slight edge over you.

I see how it doesn't matter.

I do not think of my childhood friend this evening and think about the way she dressed or if she got to travel more than me.  I think of her face in the obituary notice.  I think of her face in the photos I have of us as young girls.  Her happy eyes.  Her cheerful smile.  Her kind heart.

I think now of what matters.

21 comments:

  1. A poignant post, Colleen. 36 is so young. It hits you. And the message at the end of your post is sterling. Always something to be conscious of.

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    1. Thank you Rachna! I appreciate your comment!

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  2. Oh Colleen, I'm so sorry for your loss! I know you said that you had drifted apart and can't claim the grief, but it is still a loss to you. Like you said, childhood friends stay in your heart for the rest of your life like no other friendship will. I think it was the simplicity back then. We were carefree and we had all of our lives ahead of us. Now as adults, we've gone through pain. Through problems. Innocence is lost. And your current loss is one more ripple in the vast sea of life. Love you friend, and my dream is to sit on a porch with you 50 years from now with all of our wrinkles and life experiences, with a steaming cup of something, reminiscing and reflecting on life.

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    1. Thank you so much Janet. Yes I think you summed it up exactly right. I was surprised at how my heart ached even though we had long drifted apart and there was no sadness in the drifting, just life taking its natural course. Thank you for understanding.
      I also hope we are sitting together in 50 years (I will be 85 then!!) able to look back on the journeys we have taken through this blessing of life!
      May God bless and keep you!

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  3. Oh no. That's undeniably hard, even if you weren't close recently. I'm thankful that so far no one who I've been close to and is part of my own generation has passed away.

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  4. Having moved quite a bit myself (and being wrinkled and a bit wiser myself), I totally identify with your reflections on childhood friends. I carry them with in my mind and they surface FAR more than they used to... News of their deaths would impact me similarly. I just wouldn't be able to put it into words like you did... ♥

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    1. Thank you for understanding Rebecca! Love to you in the coming year!

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  5. Hard when we loose someone so young. Made me think about friends I have lost over the years. Remembering their face and fun times we had.

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    1. It always stays with us, thanks for commenting.

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  6. Such a raw and honest post. It's strange how death affects all of us differently. I've known people die whom I barely knew but went to school with and it still deeply affected me. My thoughts are with you right now xx

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    1. Thank you so much. Yes it is such a shock to learn of these things!

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  7. I was about your age when I lost one of my childhood friends. We were close in elementary school and then again for a couple of years in our twenties. Not because of problems but because of proximity. You spoke so much truth here. We can be so superficial, can't we? Hard on ourselves and others with things that JUST DON"T MATTER. I loved this and shared it on my FB page. Blessings!

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    1. Thank you Deb, I appreciate your comment and words. It reminds me I don't want to be so hard on myself and others for things that don't matter and never will, not even if we all lived to be 100.

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  8. I'm so sorry for your loss. So hard to fathom the deep loss of such a young life. Reading your post made me reflect on Psalm 90: 12:

    Teach us to number our days,
    that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

    That's what He is doing through your post: teaching us. Thank you for sharing your heart with us.

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    1. Thank you very much for your encouragement!

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  9. I'm so sorry for your loss. A few classmates of mine have passed away in the years since we graduated and I didn't know either of them really well (one I knew more than the other) but it still really hit me.

    Thank you for sharing this! Definitely a post to make us think about what we're placing emphasis on in our lives.

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  10. Beautifully said. I am sorry for the loss of your friend. It's amazing how some losses can open your eyes to the most important things in life. I will pray for her family and yours at this time.

    www.writingmotherfashionista.com

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  11. This is a beautiful post. I lost my longest best friend when we were teenagers. I named my son after him, and I always find myself wondering what life would have been like with his continued friendship.

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  12. So sorry for your loss- it is always hard to lose someone who's been a part of your life. Beautiful post!

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  13. I'm so sorry for your loss, Colleen. There is something so special about childhood friendships because of our purity of heart when we are young. It is easy and natural to love then! So much harder when we are older and carrying so much "baggage". Great post!

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