It’s not entirely apropos to reference Groucho Marx amidst the grief I find myself in these days, and yet, some levity is required to relieve the weeping and gnashing of teeth. So I am thinking about his pronouncement that he would never want to join any club that would have him. I feel the very same way today about a very specific group, albeit for vastly different reasons.
I have suddenly realized (though I probably could have seen it coming had Denial not worked so well) that all the women friends with whom I stayed in contact after we left New Jersey in 1980 are now widows. All five of them, all dear friends with wonderful husbands, the last of whom dropped dead on the tennis court at 78 last week. When I told my sweet husband how very sad this made me, the tears in his eyes mirrored mine and he said, “Please don’t join them.” My response? “Please don’t make me.”
As if the pandemic, among other things, hasn’t taught us how very little control we have over such things, despite the illusion (delusion?) we create for ourselves: that we eat healthily, we exercise, we have access to good medical care, we don’t smoke, etc., etc., and therefore we should live longer, even longer-and-better than our parents who didn’t take good care of themselves. But even longer and better than our friends? Well, sigh, I guess it’s time to file that possibility under “Unlikely.”
Starting more than 40 years ago, I was thrilled to join these friends in any number of supportive and comforting demographic tribes: as young marrieds, mothers of young children, mothers of teenagers, empty-nesters, mothers-of-the-bride-and-groom, grandmothers, and into retirement. We’ve navigated through several life stages together, even at great distances, and while it wasn’t always a smooth ride, it was on balance a good one and it was fun to share via our enduring friendships. Once I became a grandmother 11 years ago I recall thinking all grandmothers shared the most wonderful sorority ever. It was so affirming to recognize in each other the joy and delight of tapping into an ever-deeper wellspring of unconditional love for the next, most perfect generation. But, and here I sigh again, I didn’t think beyond grandparenting; I sort of thought of it as the last, great stage of adulthood, or womanhood. I reveled in it. There was no foreshadowing of debilitating aging or decline, of the inestimable loss of a beloved, of our need to “be there” for each other in these truly life-changing, literally end-of-life times.
Here we are, though. I weep with my friend, the latest widow, over the phone. I text and email with her regularly. I will livestream her husband’s service. (Oh, COVID-19, you’ve robbed us of so much.) I sent a memorial gift to their Food Bank, as requested. I will keep in touch as the days unfold, when her kids go back to their lives and she lives into her loneliness. I will remind her of her strengths. I will call to laugh — and cry — again. And yet, and yet, I know I will also try to create a whole lot of psychic or emotional distance for myself: I don’t want to join her club, not now.