*warning, real names are used. I sincerely hope no one minds.
A couple of years ago, a woman with whom I was neighbors for many years died of cancer, the first death of someone I knew as a friend, the first in what inevitably will become a longer and increasingly more personal list.
Recently, more women whom I called friends at different times in the past 25 years have died. I am very sad for their families, for the women they loved for their children. I cannot imagine the pain of losing the woman I love, of suddenly becoming “a me instead of a we” as one of the surviving partners described her loss.
Each death notice—Betty’s, Joanne’s, Cathy’s — in the newspaper (for that is how I learned of their deaths) has stirred up something visceral in me, and I’ve been trying to figure out what, something beyond the “life is short, appreciate what’s in front of you” cliché. I think we all experience such urgency when someone familiar to us dies too soon and unexpectedly.
My reactions grew increasingly more intense. Even though each of these friendships was situational, they were not without meaning. Each woman was older than I; not older enough to be my mother, but older enough that we came from different generations, enough older that they simultaneously inspired me and (unintentionally) intimidated me.
I saw in each of them ways of being in loving and lasting marriages (though the legalization of gay marriage came too late for most); I saw kindness, exuberance, artistry, and their absences now, too early, sadden me. Even though our lives converged only briefly, we shared a larger community, and even once our paths diverged we occasionally bumped into one another.
I sensed when I stumbled across the most recent obituary, just this past Thursday, that I had a deeper lesson to learn here. I slept on it. I drank over it. I ran on it. I finally figured it out today. I finally realized that one common thread winds through each of these relationships.
My friend Pj. PJ has been the one constant through all of these times these women represented for me. PJ is the one person who has been privy to the ups and downs of more than half of my life. She has seen me grow and struggle and survive. PJ has been there to cheer me on and can be credited with saving my life during a particularly dark time.
I called PJ immediately upon seeing Cathy’s obituary. I didn’t even hesitate, even though we have been on divergent paths the past few years. We’ve grown apart especially in the last year, which is ridiculous because we live less than five miles from each other.
I assumed I’d run into Cathy, Joanne, or Betty again, that we’d see each other at a play or in Fred Meyer, down at the bookstore or in a coffee shop around town where we’d smile and nod and maybe catch up a bit, but I won’t. The chance is gone. I don’t want this sort of disconnect to happen with PJ and me. We’ve shared too much these past 28-ish years—we have history, friendship, genuine caring for each other. We are so deeply connected that we are, in many ways, sisters.
I don’t want to see her face staring up at me from the obituaries, only to realize that the last time we saw one another we just smiled and nodded, too distant to even catch up.
I want our friendship to continue. When we die (and we all will), I don’t want either of us to wonder what we’ve been up the past five, ten, fifteen years. I want to know. I want to be there on the rest of the journey. I hope she wants to be there, too.