My best friend died.
OK, so it’s been three years – closer to four, actually – but that sad, simple truth remains. Someone once said that the moment you realize you’re getting older is when someone you love dies. I understood that, when my friend died.
One Saturday morning, he sat me down on the bench alongside the tennis court we’d played on since the early ‘80s and told me he’d been diagnosed with a rare form of Leukemia. The initial prognosis was 18 months. A second opinion gave him six to eight years. He made it through six and a half.
He’d been an educator all his working life. At first, a teacher. Then, a principal. Finally, a superintendent. The week he retired, he began chemo. Five months later, he was gone.
I went to the house that weekend and told stories to his wife of 41 years and their two sons – now grown men, I’d known them since the diaper days – stories he only shared with me. About the nightmares. About the regrets. And eventually, about the acceptance.
When I spoke at the memorial service, in front of more than 300 friends, family members, and colleagues, I said, “Even though I believe everyone comes into our lives for a reason, I also believe that in most cases, those reasons tend to be self-limiting. If it’s someone we know from work, the relationship is about the work. If it’s someone we know from the neighborhood, the relationship is about the neighborhood.
“But once in a while, given the gift of time and a willingness to nurture, a relationship can grow beyond those limits, taking on new colors and textures. And in that journey, the more you learn about the other person, the more you learn about yourself.” That was the gift, especially in his last days, I was able to give him. It was also the gift he gave me.
This week, I got an email from his widow, inviting L and me to visit her and the man she’s now committed to sharing her life with in their new home in the Desert. It’ll be interesting to see how L reacts to this chapter of my life story, but I’m not worried. One of the pillars that supports our relationship is that she, too, knows about loss, having lost two of her sisters in very different, but equally tragic circumstances.
So as much as I’m not sure how well I’ll be able to stand against the hurricane of memories and the resulting tide of emotions, both sweet and bitter, I do know that when we return home, I’ll be even more convinced of one true fact:
That life is about moving forward. At times, one crawling, halting, painful step at a time. Until the moment when we open our eyes, and our hearts, and see the sun once again. When we are reminded that life is about the living. Not about those, no matter how dear, who are no longer alive.
About the Bloggers: D and L are over age 60, in love and happily reside in San Diego, California.