Requiem for a Friend

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” A.A. Milne

A few weeks back I was supposed to have dinner with a friend from college. He was someone I knew and liked when we were floormates (more years ago than I want to admit to) but not someone I had gotten to know really well.

We had gotten together for dinner pre-pandemic after he had moved back to the area and a couple of plans for a picnic – he baked pies and was willing to trade for challah – had fallen through. Although he ended up not being a fan of the restaurant I had chosen, he got to meet my son, and we had a nice evening. When the evening ended, I jokingly told him he could pick the restaurant next time.

Then COVID shut down the world.

We messaged a few times, checking up to see how the other was faring and waiting to see when we could manage our second dinner.

When things finally opened up, he texted to see when was good. I explained I was in the middle of wedding planning, and if we could wait until after I was good and married, that would be wonderful, and he graciously agreed.

The next plan we made got the kibosh put on it when I realized I had scheduled it for the same night my son and I were supposed to be attending orientation at our shared alma mater. The sessions went right up to the time I was supposed to be meeting him for dinner in Northampton, and since the offspring wasn’t at work, I would be responsible for feeding him. He graciously agreed to reschedule for the following Monday, and I went about my day on campus staring in wonder at the changes that have taken place since I had graduated.

Some of the changes were obvious – new construction, renovated facades on buildings, that sort of thing – but some were kind of mind-blowing. The Student Union looks just the same from the outside as it used to, but the inside had been gutted and completely redone. And the dining commons was sleek and modern and now had really, really good food. Amazingly good food. Which was a bit of a shock, even though I kept reading about the awards being won from across the country. (When I was there, one of my friends put in a comment card the night they served ‘savory beef strudel’ saying they needed to stop using unqualified adjectives; the next time the strudel was served, the menu simply read ‘beef strudel.’)

I was looking forward to regaling him with stories of the changes I had seen, but the morning of our rescheduled dinner, he texted to say he had come down with strep and needed to cancel. I told him to rest and heal and not to worry about it.

It was the last communication I received from him.

A little over a week later, I messaged to see how he was feeling, not thinking anything of it when I didn’t get an immediate response. And then later that day, I got one of those phone calls from the offspring with a tone of voice in the “Hi, Mama” that elicited the immediate response of, “What did you do?”

What he had done, accidentally, was cut himself while opening a box, a cut that was most likely going to need stitches – spoiler alert: it did – and was hoping I could drive him to the hospital, which – of course – I did.

Just as he was finally being seen by one of the ER doctors, my phone started going crazy. One of my other college friends had started a group chat to let us know our mutual friend was in the hospital and most likely wasn’t going to make it. Without going into detail, the strep mutated.

We were all devastated.

Over the next few days, I got calls and texts from his father – his family had found my messages in his texts – telling me what had happened and was happening, the last of which read: He “took flight to be at peace at 1150 AM this morning while we were holding his hands.”

There are no words. Someone so young, a year younger than I am, should not have been lost so soon and so painfully.

A parent should not have to bury their child.

The funeral was lovely, religious and spiritual, and presided over by clergy who knew our friend personally. A small number of us from our dorm stayed after the service at the luncheon hosted by our friend’s parents and brought each other up to date on what we had been doing over the past thirty of so years and reminisced. His parents came over to talk with us, both gracious with their stories and their humor. I hadn’t known our friend as well as the rest of the group, so some of the stories were new to me. I was a year older than everyone else, had moved off the floor my junior year, and am frankly not the best at staying in touch with people. I did know him to be a good and kind man and a good friend. The fact that he kept reaching out to me despite my shortcomings and honest lack of available time speak to that more than anything.

I am sorry our reconnection will now never take place. I am sorry the world lost someone so kind and loving. I am sorry for the grief his parents will live with for the rest of their lives.

So, if you are reading this, and I haven’t talked to you lately, please know I value you and your friendship. I don’t want to be too late to tell anyone that again.

Hugs.

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