Sunday, March 21, 2010

Death From a New Perspective

"End? No, the journey doesn't end here. Death is just another path.
One that we all must take."
--Gandalf, The Lord of the Rings

I was once very afraid of death. In fact, until recently, I would find even the mention of it reason for tremendous anxiety. Needless to say, funerals were out of the question. The brevity of a human life was very frightening to me. Generations before us have lived and they have died. Yet, no matter how large a monument is erected in their honor or what great contribution they may have made to society, the essence of who they were as people is lost as time progresses. The parts of them that made them human- the people they loved, those that loved them back, the true moments of joy in their soul- vanishes within one, perhaps two, generations. Our bodies decay and our life experiences decay with them. Depressing? Not for me anymore, not really.

I have a love story to tell you...

Twenty-two years ago I met a gentleman who was a professor at the college I attended. I overheard that he was inviting his chemistry class to his home for a slide show of his and his wife's recent trip to Paris. That summer, I too had traveled to Paris and fell completely head-over-heels in love with France. Rudely, I introduced myself and asked if I might too come along for the slide show. He enthusiastically agreed and asked that I bring my photos as well. That weekend, I met his wife and many students (some are still good friends of mine). Even though it would be many years before I actually took one of his courses, I was always invited to student gatherings and friendly get-togethers at their home. Within the year, I met their daughter who would become my most dearest friend in the world.

From the beginning I knew that I could learn much from this couple. They had traveled the world and absorbed all that life threw their way. I knew if I shut my mouth and listened that I would learn great things from these wonderful people. One of the most important lessons I learned was how to be married. Beyond being completely in love, these two people had an unspoken protocol on how to conduct themselves in a relationship (something I am sure took work and practice). The respect that they had for each other lingered in the air. The love they had for each other was displayed with the gentlest touch or a tender smile as one brushed by the other.

As the years passed, I became very close to the family. I would house sit for them on vacation, and have them to dinner. As I became closer to their daughter, my relationship with her parents strengthened too. Their generosity to me and my family was unparalleled. Quite often they would refer to me as "their other daughter." While I was overwhelmed and honored by this statement, I always felt them more my friends.
As they grew older, it was my pleasure to go to lunch once a week with the professor's wife. The professor would always thank me for "getting her out of the house" as she wasn't able to drive due to a bad back. I am not sure if he believed me when I told him that our lunches were as important to me as they were to her. She and I were from the same mold, but were cracked in all of the right places! Most would find our wicked sense of humor revolting. When I found out they were moving two hours away to a retirement community closer to my bestfriend, I was devastated. I remember relaying my disappointed to another friend who said, "I know you were close to them, but they really need friends their own age." I think that my ability to hold my tongue reached a new level that day.
I helped my dear friend pack her parents' possessions, possessions I had looked at for 22 years. I had heard many wonderful stories about the objects in their home, how they were acquired, why they were sought, the significance and history behind them. I packed the never-ending china cabinet. As I packed this small cabinet, I found that there was always more to pack, as if the cabinet kept refilling itself as I put items into boxes. It took almost two days to finish packing that damn cabinet. Perhaps, it was because I kept tearing up. You know, all of that dust!
About a week after they moved Professor's wife was diagnosed with lung cancer. The prognosis was not good: 3-6 months. Professor was devastated and anxious (of course!) I would go up every weekend to help my friend take care of her parents. At this point neither of them could drive so I would take Professor out shopping to get what he needed for their apartment. I have never seen two people suffer with such dignity. I was blessed to be a part of this time in their lives.
I lost a very dear friend of mine on February 28, 2010. Two weeks later to the day, I lost another very dear friend of mine- his wife. They are and will be forever missed by me, but how lucky was I to have known them?


phd in yogurtry said...

What a fortunate day, inviting yourself along to his slide show! They sound like a wonderful family. I'm very sorry you have lost two of your friends. Your story is a lasting tribute.

Jennifer S said...

Oh honey. I have people like that in my life, and will be heartbroken when they aren't anymore. So, so sorry for your loss.

ethelmaepotter! said...

What a beautiful, touching, and well-written story. And may I add...THEY were lucky to have known YOU.

Stacie said...

I really appreciate your comments. This all started about 3 months ago and now they're just...gone. It's surreal. As hard as it has been for me, I worry about my best friend. She is a wonderful person and I am lucky to have her in my life!

camera girl said...

Stacie- You are such a dear friend. My parents loved you so much.Dang'it you made me cry!!
Everytime I was on the phone Dad would say"Is that Stacie? Let me say hi"
If you hadn't overheard Dad in the lunchroom-we never would have met. What a loss that would have been.
I love you more than you'll ever know.
You help keep me sane!