My Friend, Gen

“You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” Wild Geese by Mary Oliver*

GenToday I have lost a dear friend.

I am sad. And, as often happens, I am traveling – miles away from my life’s meaningful events. And even though there is nothing I can do, I feel stranded, lonely, bereft while acknowledging that where I am wouldn’t make a difference in those feelings. Still, it would be nice to be held in the embrace of those who loved my friend, too.

We are a group of aging friends. It’s easy to sit in circles of women we know and talk about our choices in dying. It’s common to pontificate about treasuring the minutes left to us, admonishing each other to spend them mindfully so as to not waste precious time.

Last summer she told several of us what she wanted. She was intent on living her life. She had decided not to really worry about her health. Smoking? Sure. Walking? Not so much. Reading what she loved. Yes! Keeping informed on all of the political scene in it down and dirty forms? Delving for the ways to change the system? Yes!

I shuddered at some of her choices and rejoiced in her certainty – all the while reminding myself not to bug her. Maybe I was even a bit envious of her sureness. You go, girl!

And then she went.

Getting the call changes everything. I want my friend. I want to hear her uproarious laugh and argue over a picayune detail that means nothing to either of us. I want to hear her excuses, knock them down, and then have her look knowingly at me when I pour out my own. I want to have heard her voice that one last time.

She was my keeper in some silly way. We could each see through each others words to the real thoughts and call “Bullshit” whenever we felt inclined. Over a glass of wine we loved to dig to the heart of any subject,and go so deep that we were lost into concepts, couldn’t find our way back, and had to surface for sake of sanity.

Who will I go to for heated discussions of everything from the depths of the soul to the vagaries of love? Exploring why we are and facing who we are was the challenge we continually explored together.

We argued, we snipped, we snapped, we loved, we hugged, and we agreed on more things than not. We celebrated life, we mourned loss and even the contemplation of it. We commiserated over the irritations of life and usually knew how to differentiate those from the real problems.

For all of our differences we shared values. We had different ways of being vociferous and opinionated but we could each stand and say, “Amen, Sister!”

Before I left for my trip I went by her house for a visit. She wasn’t feeling that great but our main topic was bemoaning the fate of our country rather than her fears. We weren’t worrying about her health as much as we were deciding what to do next.

I’m happy that I saw her. I’m totally relieved that I didn’t rag her about her health and welfare. I wish I had held her in my arms instead of just hugging her goodbye. I wish I had comforted her because she was probably afraid and not really admitting it (knowing her). I wish she had called me when she went to the hospital.

I wish…

I wish…

…she were there.


*I think Gen believed this poem. She even lived it. Maybe she just suffered for it a bit and repented once in a while.





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