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.