Grief and Loss: On Losing a Friend

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I grew up in Brooklyn,New York with that one famous tree, nearly a half century ago, which makes me at least a half century old (give or take a few centuries).

One of my closest friends at that time was a girl named Beverly who lived diagonally across the street  from where I lived. She was very,very bright(what we called an egghead in those days) kind, good, and my dearest friend. My parents loved her and her family.Although we didn’t attend the same schools, we did things together whenever we had some time,in between our studies.

Beverly’s life couldn’t have been more different from my own. She was one of three children and she had two brothers who were born profoundly developmentally disabled. One of her siblings lived at home and because he could not care for himself, Beverly’s mom had to do everything for him.Daily her mom and dad would lift the brother to put him in his chair or bathe him or to carry him to the many physical therapy activities that he was a part of.Beverly’s parents’ life was difficult, but through it all their complete pride and joy was their daughter.They were very proud of Beverly as she was extremely book smart,worked very hard in school and won many scholastic awards.

Her dad felt that because of the circumstances of their family, he could not recognize any holidays. He felt that God had dealt them a raw deal and therefore there was no room for any celebrations of any traditional holidays. Their house was quiet but for the sounds that Beverly’s brother made,as his only way of communicating was by screaming or grunting. The atmosphere was cold ,very austere,sparsely decorated and somewhat devoid of good cheer,but Beverly managed to thrive as this was the family she was born into and she did not know from anything else.

My home,on the other hand, consisted of four very noisy  children, me being the oldest.Completely the opposite of Beverly’s as we were always busy, and at any given moment the house was filled with all kinds of music from jazz to classical,political meetings,holiday gatherings and parties celebrating some academic achievement,a communion or a birthday.When holidays approached,us kids were always filled with excitement in anticipation of the tree,the Easter bunny,or some out of town relative who just dropped in unexpectedly.When we were happy,we were happy,no half stepping about it,and Beverly would soon be a part of our happy times together.It wasn’t long before she would join us regularly at Christmas.When I gave her a Christmas gift one year she said she’d never received one before. My parents came to love her like a second daughter and her parents looked at me as the same.

Sometimes,Beverly and I would do things with our dads.Packing a picnic, going to the Philharmonic in Prospect Park and listening to Leonard Bernstein was one example of how we would hang out together during our teen years.

Although I was never allowed to attend neighborhood parties,I recall the time Beverly was invited to a party given by a school chum and she asked my parents if I could come along. My parents said it would be okay and they decided that her father would drive us and my father would pick us up. I remember I made a cute little black velveteen dress to wear to this party and I was so looking forward to going. Well as fate would have it Beverly’s dad drove us to the party and we got stuck in traffic(but we had to be back home by 12 midnight,kinda like Cinderella). There were no cell phones in those days and so we weren’t able to call my father and tell him that he should arrive a little later.We finally arrived at the party at about 11:30 and at 12 midnight on the dot my father was there to to pick us up and take us home. We were so upset but that was life in those days with no cell phones and a limited,very managed social life.

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She and I also shared family ties, well,sorta.Her aunt and uncle lived in the suburban town of Hempstead,N.Y., coincidentally,as it turned out,directly across the street from my Aunt Eloise and Uncle Rupert,so we sometimes traveled on the Long Island Railroad together,she visiting her relatives and me visiting mine. Since my Aunt and her’s traveled in the same Links,Jack and Jill, Boule social circle,that made our family ties even more acceptable, especially to my aunt.

As time progressed Beverly and I maintained our close friendship throughout our undergrad and graduate schools years.She would one day introduce me to someone who would become my new best friend as the ensuing years transformed our own closeness.

Beverly would get married twice,the first time I was her maid of honor.As time wore on we eventually went our separate ways,both of us pursuing our own paths,making new friends, becoming entrenched in our professional pursuits, pursuing the dreams that were important to each of us.

From time to time,I would think about Beverly and wonder what she was doing. About a month before my husband passed away in Dec. of 2008, I was at a party and met a young woman who had graduated from Bryn Mawr. I told her that one of my dearest friends had graduated from there  many years before, and I wondered about her whereabouts. Not long after that conversation this young woman sent me Beverly’s current information. I was surprised to learn that she had moved to Seattle. I took the info,tucked it away and promised to revisit it at some point.

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My husband had been ill,subsequently died and I was soon caught up in my own grief vortex.I would look at that paper from time to time, and tell myself I’d get to it until one day when I decided that I would give her a call I could no longer find the information.

A few weeks ago I decided to Google her and after trying her name several ways, I decided to add Ph.D. You can only imagine my surprise when up popped her obituary. I was stunned,as I read the short notice which gave few clues to her life for the past few decades.

I readily began to mourn my childhood friend of long ago.You see, although we had been out of touch, she had been an integral part of my adolescent life. We were best friends, parent approved,and shared secrets and dreams and trips together. She even took a trip with me and my grandmother to Montréal one summer and we had a really wonderful time. I remember going to visit her in Philly when she was still in undergrad school and meeting up with mutual friends,spending the time having fun. I was young, I was free and I had my whole life ahead of me and Beverly shared that part of my life with me. I mourned the fact that Beverly had been a part of my world when I was very young and we were both at the beginning of everything. I mourned the memories as I wondered what her life had been like.

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Luckily, I was able to connect with a friend of her’s who filled me in on the past several decades of her life. She had lived in various cities in the Northeast, she continued her work as a practicing psychiatric social worker and teacher. She married again,divorced a second time and finally settled in Seattle.Beverly was principled and well-respected.She’d even adopted a son. She battled various forms of cancer in recent years which finally consumed her.Her son was her life and she put in place people to look after him as she realized that she was not long for this world.

I appreciated her friend’s recounting and sharing with me Beverly’s life that didn’t include me. We had gone our separate ways but the impact she’d had on my life came back to me in a flood of memories: picnics, tennis, outings sometimes shared with our now long gone dads,horseback riding,Links luncheons every year the day before Easter, and visits to our respective families together. Fun filled times with common adolescent girls’ chatter,hiding insecurities,sharing hopes and dreams.. She was able to find love twice and pour all that she had into her work and her son. I am happy that she created a good life for herself and that she made her parents proud. I am happy that we shared time together on this planet in our youth, before we stepped into the lives that awaited each of us.

I have no regrets about not having had the chance to reconnect with her.Knowing that her life was full in all the areas that she desired gives me a sense of satisfaction.
I wish her well where she’s landed next, and as I weep for my friend, gone in the prime of her life, I know that she is free of pain and soaring in that infinite place of calm and serenity that we all seek, even here on earth.

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Good bye my friend.I will see you again by-and-by.

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