The AIDS Memorial in Hudson River Park, New York City, perfectly expresses the themes of my books.
My husband and I recently visited a friend who’s dying. His partner has been keeping a group of us up to date on their situation, and on a Saturday afternoon, we were able to visit them. We weren’t alone; two other friends had flown into Chicago from Dallas and Seattle.
Our friend looks awful (so does his partner), but for a few minutes, the old energy and sense of humor were back. We all had a lovely visit, though brief.
Yes, it was uncomfortable, and yes, it was undeniably sad.
But what a gift it was, too.
The gift was not just that we were able to see him, probably for the last time.
The gift was that we were allowed to see him.
Too often, we don’t get to say goodbye to our friends, and not just because there is a sudden death.
Too often, the friend has cut themselves off, not wanting to be seen; not wanting to see the looks of pity or sadness in the eyes of their visitors. It’s not always the visitors who don’t know what to say; sometimes it’s the person who’s dying.
Too often, the family around our friend – with good intentions – cut off visitors so as not to tire out our friend.
But we were luckier than many people. We had a wonderful time – laughing, flirting, gossiping – that was all too brief.
But we were given a great gift.
And for that, we are grateful.
At the end of the morning roll call on the 80’s hit Hill Street Blues, Phil would always remind his comrades “let’s be careful out there.”
They were cops. They knew every day could be their last.
Not everyone lives that consciously, certainly not when they’re younger.
But the truth of the matter is, the world is a dangerous place. Stuff happens, no matter where you live.
We can eat healthy foods, exercise every day, do all the things that are supposed to “guarantee” a long life and still not reach that goal.
This photo is from my 40th high school reunion. Each rose represents one girl from my class of 122 who died; there are 9. One died our senior year, the most recent, two years ago.
As we age, we lose more and more friends. It’s just the law of averages, and not unexpected. What we don’t expect are the “before their time” deaths.
We don’t expect to experience a friend’s death before we’re old enough to vote.
We don’t expect to experience a friend’s death before our hair turns grey.
We don’t expect to experience a friend’s death, period.
So when it happens, we can become skittish, paranoid about our remaining friends. We pester them to lose weight, exercise more, or have that mammogram. We probably annoy them beyond words, and they might even tell us to back off.
Too damn bad.
The price of being a friend is that you are loved. And you’ll just have to live with that.
Monday – The Gift of Saying Goodbye
Wednesday – Memorializing Your Friends – StoryCorps
Friday – Back to Ground Zero