Unavoidable Losses

My  oldest and best friends seem to have disappeared. I miss having those long-term female friends with whom I shared life’s trials. Many are sick, some are dying and there seems to be no cure for some of them. Maybe there simply is no cure for AGE.

Early in my married life I met a woman in Alaska who became a very dear long term friend. Our husbands were associated through business. When my husband and I travelled to company conventions three times each year we were able to maintain a friendship with them. As couple friends we vacationed together, visited each other’s homes, met the children. She and I continued writing and meeting when possible. We held meaningful discussions about world affairs, differences in our country’s political system and with lots of fun and laughter each time we were together.

Forty years into that friendship I learned she was having tests. An unusual untreatable leukemia was found. Internet searches turned up a new treatment being tested in Seattle. She was eligible! So began her trips from Ketchikan to Seattle. For nearly two years it seemed to be going well and the test results were encouraging. And then they weren’t. About that time her husband showed signs of early Alzheimer’s.

On two memorable occasions I drove to Seattle, stayed with her and drove her each day for treatment at the clinic. Once that part of the day was over we made the most of the rest of it, talking and laughing each step and mile of the way. Restaurant meals in interesting places were a part of it, visits with her friends and relatives who lived within driving area, shopping for clothes to take home, simply exploring that marvellous city. After my second sojourn with her I suspected things were not going so well. I heard that against doctor’s advice, she made her annual trip to Kawaii. We talked when she returned; I spoke with one of the children who told me she was clearing up her office. It was my sign; only a few days later she called to say goodbye. We had had the best of times but both my husband and I miss her still.

I once had a professional friend. We co-chaired big events, we did short trips together. Our husbands were friends. We discussed and read about spirit. I considered her my soul sister and I think she did me, gave me a picture captioned, “Friends Forever.” Slowly she faded from a dementia disease her mother had suffered early – lost, forgetful. Thankfully her children live near and they had given her precious grandchildren that gave focus to her days. To her I have ceased to exist —.

A new friend entered my life. She moved here from the east to be nearer family. We sought family history together and wrote personal stories about them, organized an all-candidates political forum. I learned how to create a website using MS Publisher and side by side, she and I made it ‘go live.’ One sad day she learned the harsh truth: pancreatic cancer would give her only a brief time to enjoy those grandchildren. Within six months she was gone; I had lost another soul sister.

A close neighbourhood friend loved to talk and we laughed as we walked together. Our small walking group all appreciated her, for she was filled with love for everyone. Although she suspected something wasn’t right in her own body, love for her good husband made his health her priority until after their winter vacation. When the big C diagnosis came she fought, and walked on with us.

She followed doctor’s advice: accepted surgery, chemo, and radiation. As her local support group we walked with her, now more slowly, and continued talking and laughing. When she could no longer walk briskly, instead, we drove her to interesting places where we could enjoy fun together. Salt Spring Island to see the farms, large gardens to see new blooms, seaside restaurants to enjoy real food, even a wheelchair stroll through pathways of her very own home garden retreat, all seemed to sooth her pain. In Palliative Care she talked and laughed with us, all the way to the end.

On the Friday before Christmas one year, while I was vacationing on Maui, a friend of 20 years sent a brief e-note, “I’m having some heart trouble, waiting for tests, if they ever get around to doing them.” The next day she was dead. Now, who will I discuss club resolutions with, share my room at conference, and worse, at the end of a convention day, who is left for me to drink brandy with?

My most recent loss is a friend with whom I discussed children, compared notes on education systems, errant sons, and fiercely competitive daughters. Over forty years ago our five – year – old girls decided it was ‘not fair’ that there wasn’t a district soccer team for them; their brothers who played were only two years older. My friend’s husband agreed to coach a team of girls under six. Those same girls became members of the under-six girls relay team of our Summer Swim Club! A relationship developed between the couples – couple friends are few in any life – and then the family moved to Ottawa.

My daughter and I visited, kept in touch. We had two Mom and Daughter weekends together. The family had always planned to return to this island; we found property for them, sent pictures, they bought on our recommendation, and, on their return, built their dream home. And so our friendships continued.

When her husband died of a dreaded brain cancer she and I still had marvelous times together. We travelled to New Orleans, shared advice, our troubles and triumphs, always over good red wine. In an effort for her to have more time with a grandchild – she had only one – I shared my three whom she knew well. My friend fought her cancers with everything she knew. She hung on to life for a short six months more. We’ve missed her dreadfully.

A friend whose deceased husband was our “best man,” 55 years ago is no longer the same person. We grieved his passing but that loss continues to affect her immeasurably. Depressed, over-self-medicated, obese, suffering arthritis and effects of knee and hip replacements she sleeps badly, eats poorly, moves only with difficulty, and now appears to have suffered several mild strokes. My longest, best friend, with whom I shared every step taken by our growing family: discussions on sewing, cooking and canning, raising children and understanding forester husbands, appears to now be giving up on her life. There are brief glimpses of her former self, but our great plans for sharing new experiences together, including travel, will never be.

I have a huge support group of newer friends but I desperately miss those long term friends. I have children and grand-children; I have love and continuing good health. I may be old, but despite grieving my losses, I am still here and fully alive.