As denial finally fails, and reality sets in.
Last week, I got word that a dear friend, someone I'd known and loved for over 40 years, died of throat cancer, after a two-year struggle with the disease.
I last saw him in November, when John and I took him out to dinner in Philadelphia, at a restaurant convenient to my friend's apartment. He was in the midst of chemotherapy, and his voice sounded terrible, though he said it wasn't painful for him to talk. We all chatted and laughed, and he took half of his dinner -- shrimp, I think it was -- home with him.
I didn't call. I didn't schedule another visit. I think, now, that this was my sad way of trying to pretend that he wasn't as sick as he appeared to be -- if I didn't make a fuss, or acknowledge how little time might be left, maybe everything would be okay after all. We would have years of dinners together, with plenty of shrimp left over, whenever we wanted.
And so, when the not-unexpected news came, I had to sit down for a while. I waited for some great emotional upheaval, but all I felt, lying back on the couch, was a kind of stupid numbness. As though what I'd just been told was really something sad but hypothetical, regrettable but only a statistic, or perhaps simply something that had happened half a world away, to someone I'd never even seen.
Today, though, there was an email in my in-box, about the upcoming memorial service, at an Episcopal church in Philadelphia, followed by a reception at one of my friend's favorite restaurants. I've barely been able to stop crying since. I feel as though there's a cold, heavy hatchet lodged, deep and immovable, smack in the middle of my chest.
Because they don't have memorials for people who are still alive, do they? And somehow, this sliver of news has transformed what I heard last week from something remote and impersonal, into a most intimate truth, a dizzying grief. The parts of my life in which this dear friend was intimately involved -- and there were many -- keep drifting up out of memory, lacerating as they coalesce and then disappear. I'm pretty sure they'll be back.
This is all I can manage for now. I'm just going to sit for a while, and ache.