Two weeks ago, I wrote here about my friend who was nearing the end of her days here on earth. She did cross over into eternity last Saturday, June 30, 2007, and this past Saturday I attended the memorial service held in her honor.
I knew the woman in question for about as long as I can remember — at least since seventh grade — but we were never real close friends. We hung out in the same circle of friends, but did not seek each other out individually. Whenever “the gang” was gathered together, we were both there. And we kept up to date on each other’s lives via the other members of our group with whom we both interacted individually. We were always happy to see each other, though. Friendships often work this way.
Two of my friends who were particularly close to the deceased woman spoke at the service. They taught me things about her that I never knew and, in fact, the minister commented during her meditation that it is quite common for loved ones to attend memorial services and hear revelations about their departed loved one. There were aspects of her life I had never heard about and it was very touching to hear tributes from those gathered who were asked to stand and speak contemporaneously, if they were so moved.
One of the themes I heard echoed repeatedly about my deceased friend was that she was a person who brought others together. Several folks recounted how they became friends as a result of knowing her individually.
I had never really thought about her in that way. She was one of those folks who, from my perspective, was just sort of always there. You know people like that. She was a quiet person who never sought nor demanded the spotlight. She was just an unobtrusive, steady presence in the life of our group of friends.
After the service, we decided that it would be fitting for our little group to go out for a couple glasses of wine, to drink a toast to our friend who loved to enjoy a nice glass.
And as I was sitting there, looking around the table at that group of folks, all of whom I have known for at least 33 years and some of them much longer, I realized that our departed friend to whose memory we proposed heartfelt toasts was still bringing us together.
We all have busy lives — careers, homes, children and, in the case of one couple in our group, even a beautiful grandchild. We don’t have time to get together as often as we would like and, truthfully, we don’t always make as much effort to get together as we should.
But there we were, gathered around the table, talking animatedly, laughing, reminding each other of the crazy things we did when we were in college theatre together, and it was all because of our lost comrade.
At that moment, I swear that I heard her soft laughter and envisioned the corners of her mouth turning up in that sly way that she had when something tickled her. I had a strong sense that she heard the toasts we offered to her and her spirit was in our midst, although in a transformed manner.
We left the restaurant vowing to get together more often in the future. Who knows if we really will. But I hope we do because our mutual friend’s too-early departure from this earth touched all of us, albeit in different ways.
For me, it was a reminder to stop and really pay attention to the people in my life — to draw them out of their shy silence and expend more effort to talk to those who stand back in the middle of the crowd, appreciating their uniqueness in a tangible way while I have the opportunity.
For a couple of our friends, her death was nothing short of devastating because they were in touch with her virtually daily and there will now be a gaping hole in their lives that no one else can fill.
One fact is inescapable: Our little group will never be the same. When we gather together, there will always be a glass raised in honor of the first to leave us. Our relationships with each other will forever be changed because of the experience of losing our mutual friend.
That is her legacy, in part. That is also her gift to us. I hope that we are good stewards of that gift in the years to come, never forgetting the lessons that we have just learned from and about her, our group . . . and ourselves.