Grieving a Friends Passing

The Heart-Hurt of a Friend’s Passing

It has been my good fortune to have a small, close-knit circle of bosom buddies — BFFs who are truly soul mates and confidantes.  If not lifelong, then at minimum decades-long chums who want me in their life and vice versa.  Regardless of time and distance, we’re there for each other.  Friends with a capital F who would do anything for me and ditto in the other direction.  Brothers and Sisters with whom I have been privileged to share an extra-special bond of experiences, laughs, tears, barbs, sweat, victories, defeats, grins, joys, belly-laughs, music, hobbies, interests, grief, and strong-embrace hugs.  Compatible in point of view, disposition, and approach to life.

You can’t choose your family, and you don’t always take family members’ calls, but you unquestionably choose such special friends and pretty much always, with a knowing smile before picking up, take their calls.

A phone call two weeks ago broke my heart.  A great friend of 48 years had suddenly, quite unexpectedly passed.  Gut punch.

Personal loss is not new to me.  My entire immediate family — mother, father, brother, sister, and all grandparents — long ago departed this earth.  Each loss carried with it sadness, regrets, and memories.  On the flip side of life’s ledger, my greatest blessing was to have wed my best friend and been embraced as a member of her wonderful family and their extended kin.  I’ve been fortunate, also, to have a wide circle of friends, some of whom were at some point colleagues.  Of course, there have been deaths and sadness along the path.  That’s part and parcel of the journey.

This particular loss brought with it a different heart-hurt than I’d ever experienced.  This gentleman was the first of my handful of lifelong BFFs to be taken from his family, friends … and me.

As I gently pushed aside the shock, tears, and communications with others whose lives were similarly touched by this gentleman, it started to penetrate my wounded heart that I am better for knowing him, better for loving him in a way that BFFs do.  Slowly albeit painfully, I began to acknowledge that such strong friendships transcend death.  That the memories made with this gentleman and our band of comrades will never be forgotten, having created a lasting imprint on those he left behind.

My friend was fabulously happy in life, and that delight and positive energy cascaded out of his every pore, showering those of us fortunate to be an important part of his life with a beautiful glow that we probably too often took for granted.  He adored his high-school-sweetheart wife of 52 years and his son, daughter, and granddaughter.  Oh, how he loved them!  He gave.  And gave.  And gave.  Along with three decades of teaching elementary school children, he worked nearly 50 years in a service capacity at a public sports facility, touching all with whom he came in contact with his quick smile, wry wit, and generosity.

My shirt-off-his-back friend loved taking monies on poker night from his buds, University of Maryland basketball, and the local DC-area sports teams.  With younger knees, my always-competitive friend fancied himself a keen point guard in our banging pickup games.  He loved going to Vegas and movies — the former became an annual excursion, the latter pretty much a weekly outing.  He had a particular passion for golf and music.  He idolized Elvis and could come darned close to matching The King’s pipes.  My friend could take the gospel according to Elvis and twist it to apply to pretty much any of life’s many lessons.

And my mate loved us guys and gals.

My friend’s memorial service honored his life.  Certainly, there was anguish over the head-shaking place in which we abruptly found ourselves, despair over what may have been, and despondency over our friend no longer being in our lives.  To a person, the goodbye hurt the most because no one anticipated that the story would end so soon.

But, as it should be with a life well-lived, there was also laughter and stories aplenty that allowed us to revel and reflect in what was.  With each warm embrace and tear shed from members of our circle of support, it became ever-more clear that this cherished friendship, formed in life, may have been broken with our friend’s passing, but that the love we shared with him remains unbreakable.  The more we reminisced, the more we smiled at memories and put our arms around each other, and the less was uttered the inescapable question, “Why?”

My cherished friend will forever be in my heart, as well as in those of his family and friends.

I long ago learned that long-distance works in friendships and love.  I left Maryland in 1985, but the bonds of friendship with my handful of go-to buds remain as solid as ever.  One of the last conversations with my friend was an impromptu call from my porch in the High Country.  My music-savvy friend was greeted by my poor rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “I just called … to say … I love you … “.  He cracked up and, of course, one couldn’t end a tune with my friend without Elvis’ quick-mumbled “Thank you very much.”  As we usually did, we talked about everything and nothing at all.  And smiled and laughed and said goodbye ’til next time.

I have come away from this first BFF passing determined to celebrate my friend by celebrating my relationships with others — family and friends.  I want to go that extra mile of kindness and more frequent outreach so that they know that, at the end of my days, they were loved for who they were in my life and my heart.  I don’t want there to be any doubt that our moments together were magical to me and indelibly helped shape the person I became.  That they were important to me, and hopefully, I to them.

I love you, Denny.  Thank you for the life and the memories we shared.  Yours was a singular beam of light.  To paraphrase one of my favorite philosophers, Winnie the Pooh (A.A. Milne), “How lucky I am to have someone who makes saying goodbye so hard.”