The Third Third

BFF's -- But, Alas, Not Forever

I just entered the date for another friend’s memorial service in my calendar.  

“This is our life now,” another woman told me sadly.  “It’s just going to keep happening.  It’s our age.”

She seems resigned to it.  I am not, even though there is a certain — and I mean certain as opposed to uncertain — truth to it. In just the last 14 months, several groups of women friends I have been part of for the last 10 years or so have lost five of our number.  Two out of six in one case.   We are quite literally diminished.  It feels as though we are, both individually and collectively, less than we were before Death and Disease robbed us of these important relationships, of so many of our women friends.

The relationships began intentionally at times, but mostly serendipitously when each of us found we had more time and energy to invest in friends by virtue of age and station (no more work, no young children) and recently discovered common interests. I might once have said of our gatherings that they were “just” a book club or a study group, a bridge game, a golf outing or a night out with the girls.  But they were more.  Our regular encounters fed me, nurtured my spirit with laughter, intimacies, conversation, and the thrashing out of ideas and even, yes, some random rumination on aging.  Who’s going gray, have you tried botox, what color is that on your nails, what are you reading, WTF is going on in politics, who’s your grown daughter dating, and how much do you babysit your grandchildren. They became valuable touchstones in the dailiness of my life.

Alas, these latest BFF’s are literally not living up to the “F for forever” part.  And I am freaking out.  It was actually the premature death of a dear friend at 61 that nudged me into several of these other relationships.  We considered Jan’s death a tragic aberration, though.  Not the norm it seems to have become 10 years later, when every meeting starts with reports from the medical battlefields.  New knees, new hips, that’s one thing; heart attacks, cancer, a fall, a brain tumor and hospice are something else entirely.

I even began to wonder, indeed, worry,  if all this dying and death was preparing me to deal with my own vulnerabilities or the loss of my dearest loved ones, maybe even numbing me to the pain of death by making it so damn normal.  You know the platitudes, “Death is part of Life.” “It’s all a part of the process.”  And “You go on because you have no other choice.”

I get it.  We are all going to die.  But, as someone says at every funeral I’ve ever attended, “I just didn’t think it would be now.”

I didn’t either. I just didn’t think it would be now.  I didn’t expect Death to be slapping me up the side of the face at 71, reminding me over and over and over again to seize the day and spend my time with people I love and enjoy. 

So I don’t know how to respond to this seemingly sudden spate of deaths.   Remember the person.  Respect death.  Acknowledge grief.  Write a note.  Call a friend.  Seize the day.  Hold tight to your loved ones.  And then what?  I just don’t know.  In the three or four days I’ve been struggling with this piece, trying to write myself into a better understanding of this particular stage or phase of life — which is what I do — another friend in hospice care has died, taking with her all the hope she generated by defying the odds of her disease for so long and leaving, well, leaving behind a void where her once truly brilliant, vital self used to be.  Mine is not a raw, brutal grief, but a dull, aching sadness, a profound and anxious sense of loss.  I know I will recover, regain some perspective, achieve some inner peace and activate the so-called “healthy” denial that says this age and dying stuff is not necessarily all about me at 71.  Still, I grieve the loss of the fullness of the community I found among these women.  How to refill our hearts and minds is the task at hand, it seems to me. And it is women’s work.  Now.

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