“Losing a Longtime Friend,” May 21, 2018

One of the best things about a long life is having friends you’ve known and loved for years. But losing a longtime friend is one of life’s hardest blows to bear.

Joyce and I met more than 25 years ago on the patio at church. She was talking with a mutual friend, and when I heard her accent, I barged right in.

“Where are you from?” I said.

“North Carolina!” she said

“So am I! Where ‘bouts?”

When transplanted Southerners meet, they like to pinpoint hometowns. Joyce was from Elizabeth City. I was born in Hendersonville. We had both gone to California after college and stayed to raise our children.  She was a marriage and family therapist, married to a clinical psychologist. I was a journalist married to a basketball coach. We didn’t have a lot in common.

But when people grow up in the same place and time, they know things about each other that not everyone knows. It took no effort at all to become friends.

One of the things I liked best about Joyce was her husband. David was the best listener I’ve ever met. He would listen to whatever you said, no matter how long you took to say it. He would hear you out completely, mull it over, and then make a comment or ask a question that you would remember and think about for years to come.

I loved that about him. I loved his wit, his depth, his kindness and compassion. I especially loved how he loved Joyce. I grew so fond of him I’d say to Joyce, “How’s that man of yours that I love more than I should?”

And she would laugh and say, “He loves you, too!”

I know some great couples, but Joyce and David were truly a match made in heaven.

Joyce joined a prayer group I was part of. We met once a week for years, six women with full lives, to drink coffee, share concerns and pray for each other. It was at the beginning of an especially difficult period for me. My husband had recently been diagnosed with colon cancer. In the next four years, he would undergo multiple surgeries, with chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
During those years, and in the long months after his death, those women, including Joyce, were godsends for me in the truest sense of the word.

The day my husband died, Joyce placed a wreath on my gate and sat with me for an hour while I told her the story of how my husband left this world.

It is a holy thing, a sacred gift, to be present and bear witness to the passage of a loved one from this life to the next. There is often a great need to share it, to talk about it at length.

I had spent hours that day sharing news of my husband’s death with family and friends. But I longed to tell the whole story. Joyce listened to every word. Then she hugged me and told me to get some rest.

That was 20 years ago. When a friend called recently to tell me David had died, I shouldn’t have been surprised. He’d been ill for years, first with Parkinson’s, then cancer. Joyce had told me the end was near. But even when it’s expected, death always comes as a surprise.

David’s memorial service last week was a grand celebration of a life well lived. My favorite line was from his daughter. Her dad, she said, was a cross between theologian Thomas Merton and comedian Steve Martin.

Afterwards, at the reception, friends took turns sharing stories and memories of David. I had one thing I wanted to say, but saved it to tell Joyce as I was leaving. First, I made her promise to call when she’s ready to go to dinner. Maybe she’ll tell me the story of David’s passing. Then I told her, “Get some rest.” It’s the best advice I can give. The second best is “Do what you want.” I’ll tell her that when we go out to dinner.

Finally, I hugged her neck and whispered in her ear: “I loved him more than I should.”

Then I left her standing there alone, surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who loved her and her David just as I did.

And she was still smiling.

Comments

  1. Dianne Hartzell says:

    Simply beautiful..Dianne

  2. Sharon I just read your story in th Ft Smith Times Record. I lost my brother 4-27-18). He lived with me for 8 years. I can honestly say it was so different than when I lost my husband in 2009. We are having a Celebration of life in June with lots of family. I really believe in some respects he was more than a brother he was a friend as well. Thank you for sharing your story. I’ll be going thru lots of memories. Tough times as well as good times. Sincerely Lee Ann Koenig

  3. Jo says:

    This column was so timely. A dear friend left us two years ago. My thoughts have been “a bright light left this earth to shine in her new home.”

  4. Sharon,
    Thank you so much for sharing this profound, personal loss in such a compassionate, tender way. I hope you realize that by doing so, you are a friend to many.
    You have our deepest sympathies and our continued blessings.
    Bruce & Neva

  5. Bev Kreps says:

    I recently lost a friend from our kid’s preschool days, over 43 years ago. She’d recently moved to Washington state after spending her life in Oakland. She lasted less than a few months. We kept being assured she’d be in rehab and we could visit then. I will regret always that I didn’t get to say goodbye and give her a last hug. Your column brought back how much I’ll miss her and treasure our friendship.

  6. Mona says:

    Your words were so great
    Had I been in town this past Saturday I would have been there to honour a great man. He was one of a kind so loving.

  7. Sue Summers says:

    So very sorry for your loss, being 84 years old, I too have lost a good many friends. I never have the words of comfort, my only way is to give a hug to whoever is left. I love your writings and look forward to your article every week.

  8. Chris Hunefeld says:

    What a great story about Love. Thank you.

  9. Kate Sciacca says:

    The blessing of death is a life well lived. Being able to share the stories and recall the joy that a soul offered to so many others makes all of it much more bearable. Maybe that’s it – we bear one another’s burdens in life and in death.
    So good you were there for Joyce. Even better that you will be there for weeks and months and years ahead… maybe the Good Lord knows what He is doing…. maybe? 😉

  10. Carol Toothman says:

    I lost my best and really only friend last October. She had been sick for a long time. She needed liver and kidney transplant but they said she would never get them. I miss her everyday so very much. We talked everyday on the phone and had been friends for over 30 years. On Christmas morning I waited for her call even though I knew it would not happen. I am so sorry for the loss of your friend.

  11. Brenda Leavitt says:

    We don’t know one another but one of your best qualities is turning a sorrow into something beautiful. A true gift you possess and often share. Thank you for sharing. I always look forward to reading your column.

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