As fate and cancer would have it, I found myself going to too many funerals and giving too many spontaneous eulogies these past weeks. Standing in front of family and friends, memories and moments spent together keep pouring out, transformed into nods of recognition among other mourners. We all shared some experiences with the departed friends. We loved and grew exasperated at similar quirks, turns of phrase and eccentricities. Endearing qualities, all, that made us love them then and now miss them terribly.
I recently said farewell to a dear friend, Jane, who was always so inventive and filled with ideas and plans that she left me breathless with the possibilities of what we could do together. Yet she never had the time to pause long enough to actually do them. For me, I regret not finding the time to ask her more and to know more about her.
Yet, I found out from the others at the ceremony, similarly energized by her fierce practical intellect, that even when she wasn’t able to finish all of the projects she had in mind, she could inspire her friends to keep pushing themselves forward. She had the ability to lead you to the gate of a labyrinth (a symbol she cherished) and then insinuate that the rest was up to you. For her, it was all about opening doors, rejecting complacency, loving her kids and grandkids, learning new things, surviving and being an unabashed good buddy.
Last week I sat Shiva for my former dentist, another dear friend. (Anyone who knows my irrational horror of dentists might gasp at the thought!) Charlene could tame anybody’s fear, and she approached years of accumulated guilt and neglect with an amused, un-reproachful smile. We became friends during months of dental work infused with gallons of Novocain. She would ask deep philosophical questions and expect me to comment on foreign policy news, even if I could only respond with gargled monosyllabic nods.
Yet when we got past the root canals, she introduced me to her husband and son. And when we walked her dog together, I found a woman of broad interests and a fantastical sense of aesthetics. She transformed a living room, in the old South Philly convent she and her husband restored, into a small oasis with palm trees and all. She was fun to be with.
I’m always discovering new things about my friends, even if I’ve known them for years and years, or even decades. It has a way of fueling and enriching our relationship.
It seems that, inevitably, at every funeral and memorial someone says, “He (she) would have loved this celebration.” And it’s probably true. Who wouldn’t want to have all of these people and relatives sharing great, often funny stories about you? I know Len, my late husband, would have been surprised to see how many people came to his funeral almost a decade ago, how many cared for him and loved him. I don’t think he knew.
All of this makes me think that maybe we don’t have to wait for the last farewell. Maybe, at the risk of being awkward or corny, we can tell our friends how much they matter in our lives‚ right now, while they’re with us.
Meanwhile, farewell, my departed friends. Here’s thinking of you.