How do you define one of the best friends you’ve ever had?
A long-term school friend of mine, B, recently lost her 10-year battle with cancer. B and I got to know each other through our seventh-grade English class, and we’ve stayed friends ever since.
B had many talents. She was a gifted writer and editor, and other languages, cultures and genealogy fascinated B. She had an insatiable curiosity. B majored in Russian and wanted to become a teacher. Later, she got to realize her dream and taught learning-disabled students.
We worked together on the literary magazine in school. She could draw as well, whereas my stick figures would cause Michelangelo to sob in despair and go eat mounds of ravioli as consolation.
Her family is musical. B played violin in our high school orchestra. She had four brothers, also musical. Two of the brothers sang with me in our high school choir, and the others were in the orchestra with her.
Growing up, I enjoyed visiting her house. There was always music going on somewhere and they were prolific readers with entire walls of books.
We belonged to separate religions. I visited her church once or twice; she came to mine. We acknowledged that even though we held different beliefs, there was mutual respect for each other’s religion and it wasn’t going to be an issue between us.
We were close throughout junior high and high school, and kept in touch even after we went off to our separate colleges.
B and I went through all the events of school life – the triumphs, the pain, the mischievous pranks, the holiday concerts, the birthdays, and the occasional party at a pizza restaurant or at someone’s home. She wasn’t shy about saying things to me that I needed to hear.
One of my favorite stories about her is the strawberry story from junior high. A neighbor’s mom took us to a pick-your-own strawberry farm and we picked dozens of strawberries to take back home. On the way back, B sorted through her strawberries and tossed the bad ones out the car window.
One of the bad strawberries got lifted by an air current and smacked into the windshield of the car behind us. We yelped in alarm and ducked down out of sight.
Did I mention that the car behind us was a POLICE car???!!!
I sometimes wonder what that policeman thought when that kamikaze strawberry came out of nowhere and attacked his windshield. He was definitely startled.
Her life wasn’t easy. Far from it because she was put through a lot, more than anyone should ever have to endure. She got divorced from her first husband, spent years as a single mom raising two kids, lost her father, remarried, had another child with husband #2, suffered through the death of husband #2, and became a single mom again for the remainder of her life.
At her father’s funeral, one speaker painted an image that I found comforting. It likened death to traveling by boat on a river. On the “life” side, people were saying, “There he goes! There he goes!” But on the other side, the others said, “Here he comes! Here he comes!”
I spoke with her by phone a while back. I told her she was my hero. She’d been through all of that, raised three good kids and kept going forward in spite of it. I’m so glad we had that hour-long conversation.
This week, I went to her funeral service with my sib. On the way down, my sib told me a story I didn’t know about her family. Her dad got the kids into music in order to keep them busy. One day, they were singing and heard another voice join in. “Okay, who’s that?” The youngest kid in the family was standing up in his crib, singing along with everybody else and keeping up.
Her brothers paid tribute to her in music and the people that knew her got up to say some words. I had the chance to catch up with them prior to the service and to see some others from high school, including husband #1.
According to the bulletin, the minister was supposed to give a short speech at the end of the service. But B had one final surprise for us in store: a letter. I suspect that no one knew the letter was coming. During the reception, one brother told me that he, at least, hadn’t known about it.
The letter spoke of several things. B pointed out that the best thing about using such a letter was getting to have the final say at her own funeral. (It made many of us chuckle.)
She asked us to watch over her kids and told us to let go of our petty grievances. She knew that cancer was robbing her of some extra decades and urged us to work on our own lives by saying, “Live the life I didn’t get to.”
It’s going to take some adjustment, getting used to the fact that she’s not around, that her voice is silent now. Life goes on. There are others to notify. I’ll gently press the buttons to delete her number out of my phone and remove her e-mail address from my list.
Her kids will be all right eventually. They have people looking out for them, and I predict that they’ll grow up to be smart, productive and talented adults.
“Live the life I didn’t get to.”
I’ll do my best, B. See you someday.
YouTube video credit: ionlift