Yesterday while surfing FaceBook, I discovered that a friend I went to high school with passed away. From the comments, I found out that she had been ill for the past four years, but no other information about her illness was posted. Many, many people expressed great surprise that she had been as sick as she was.
We were never very close, but finding out about her passing really rocked me. Her mother - who was a pretty good friend of my mom's back in our high school days - died of BC about two years ago. Her father use to be my boss. Her brother and I ran on our school's track team together as well. Again, she and I weren't particularly close, but our families had a connection - and we were only four months apart in age.
I knew that she had married a minister and they lived in Maryland with their four children. I did see her at her mom's funeral, but only for a quick offer of condolence and a hug. The last time we really chatted was at our 10th high school reunion. Our 30th is in two months and it really saddens me to know that she won't be there.
Reunions stir up all kinds of mixed emotions for me. The first reunion I ever went to was my mother's 30th high school reunion in North Carolina. My dad had a project due at work and could not take the time off, so I was her "plus one." I still have the group picture the EJ Hayes High School Class of 1961 took just before dinner. I take it out every now and again to see if I still remember where my mom was sitting and to study her face for any signs of illness. I do that because six months after that photo was taken, my mom died from the cancer she didn't even know had returned. Brain mets took her away from us almost three months to the day after her 49th birthday.
My 20th high school reunion took place about a week after my own breast cancer diagnosis. When I look at the photos we took that night, I see a happy, smiling me posing with friends I hadn't seen in a long time. But I remember that I spent the entire night wondering if I would be around for the 30th reunion. I was terrified that my child would be looking at the group picture we took that night, scanning my face for signs of illness.
Now here comes my 30th - but I'm not so much thinking about myself as I am about my friend and her family. 47 is too, too young to be buried. It's too young to leave a relatives and friends behind to grieve. It's too young to leave loved ones alone, struggling with the absence. Thinking about her family and what they are facing makes me remember my own when my mom was no longer here.
My dad was also 49 when his wife died. Although I wasn't a little girl that needed to be taken care of (I was 25), there was a definite, palpable void my mother's death created in the house. I often tell friends that it was so, so hard at 25 that I don't think I could have survived had it happened 10 or even five years earlier. But that hardly compares to the thoughts I have today at age 47 about how my father at age 49 even dealt with the death of his life partner.
If my Beloved were to just be gone tomorrow, I don't think I would be able to function. If we had children together, I have no idea how I could possibly care for them because I'm sure I would not be able to do much more than breathe - and that's not hyperbole at all. It's just too big to even fully wrap my head around.
Today, while still trying to come to grips with the death of another person in the prime of their lives, I think of my dad, my friend's husband and her dad as well, as aging has made me empathize a whole lot more with how dealing with the loss of a spouse can probably come close to totally paralyzing a person.
What do you do with that? How do you get up the next day and not be angry at the world? How do you hold it together after the arrangements have been made and the concerned friends have stopped calling to see if you're OK? How do you just go on without them?
I simply don't know, and I'm so very saddened by the idea that anyone has to figure that out.