Twelve years ago today was a midterm election. The Democrats won both houses of Congress, as well as a majority of governorships and state legislatures. It was also the day my friend, Delle, died.
I knew it could happen any time. Her brother Gregory had emailed me that he was writing her obituary. She’d said her goodbyes and was surrounded by those she loved. Those who loved her comprised a much larger group, one too large to fit into her lakeside condo or even the ballroom of any downtown hotel.
I turned off my computer earlier than usual that evening, eager to watch the election returns, needing the distraction. So it was the next morning when I learned that Delle had died about the time the polls closed.
Her death was not a surprise. Recurring ovarian cancer had wreaked havoc on her body and she’d discontinued treatment a month after its most recent return over Labor Day weekend. Though it was unrealistic at best, her friends believed she could always win out.
When she announced she was ending treatment, you could hear the wailing through the emails shared in her Yahoo group. We all respected her decision, but that didn’t mean we liked it. And though it gave us all plenty of time to tell her how much we loved her, we admitted to being selfish: we didn’t want to let go.
Through the years, I’ve felt her presence, sometimes in melodramatic ways. How else do you explain a postcard she sent me from Paris that sits on my desk and for no apparent reason flops over? Or the candle that flared up and set fire to the altar covering on the ofrenda just as her mass of remembrance was about to begin? When she wants you to feel her presence, she has her ways. Even now, when I walk into the coffeehouse where we spent so many mornings solving the problems of the Church and the rest of the world, I half-expect to see her there.
I’ve missed Delle even more the past year, through my mother’s final illness and since her death. I’ve missed the comfort I received from her after my father died. I’ve missed her total faith in my ability to do something I’d never done before: write a book about people grieving the death of a friend, an idea she surely knew was inspired by her.
Some time ago, I actually felt like she was pulling away, that somehow her work with me was done. God, I hope not. The writing I’m doing now has nothing to do with her or that initial idea. But I wouldn’t be doing it if not for her. Her encouragement sent me down a path that was not only unexpected but life-changing. I would not be where I am, doing what I’m doing, planning what I’m planning, if not for Delle.
I hope she knows how grateful I am: for having known her, for having laughed and cried with her, for having the gift of her example. She wasn’t perfect, but she was unforgettable.
Today is the final day of To Absent Friends, the week-long Scottish festival of remembrance and storytelling. I think she’d like knowing that she’s included; she did not shy away from the spotlight.
I hope you have/had a Delle in your life, a friend who inspired you to be your best, even after they were gone.
Absent friends. Absent, but always with us.