Ten years ago today I said goodbye to my best friend.
We met in the sunset of our lives. It’s not an uncommon occurrence that two women become best of friends in the Red Hat Society. This disorganization of women over fifty has grown in exponential proportions since its inception only a few years ago. It fills the need for those women over fifty to gather together to celebrate life with fun and frivolity. And that is exactly what we do. We do it with whim and wit flaunting our age in shades of purple topped off with brilliant red hats.
When I learned about this society of women, I felt that my conservative and shy nature made me an unlikely candidate for such a prominent public display of splendorous glitz. Under the guise of a dare I coerced a few old friends into buying red hats, purple dresses, and showing up for high tea at a local tea room. We giggled under our bright red brims, a conspicuous spectacle of color amid the dainty pink and white décor. Due to a few inquiring ladies with sense of admiration we emerged a couple of hours later with our hats tilted with a new attitude (hat-itude). The next day I registered with Hat Quarters as Queen of the newfound RHS Molls.
The Molls chapter has now grown into an eclectic group of over sixty members and while I enjoy the exaltedness of being a queen, so contrary to my life before red hats, the biggest reward has been my bond with one special new friend. She walked into my life with a handful of silly purple clappers, the biggest grin ever, and the heartiest of all laughs. We had the same purpose in mind… pure fun. And fun we have, time and again.
Neither one of us had a single clue that the biggest problems in our lives would be our biggest bond. It happened a few months after we met when I shared with her a rather personal reason for my escape into this society of women. Her face dropped as she blurted out her reason. While our situations were different, we shared equally desperate challenges. The point is not what we suffered from but how we would take care of each other. We allowed each other the space to share the daily trials in our life and then we moved past that into fun and friendship. We learned that sharing the grief, with compassion and a good sense of humor lessened the burdens and intensified the fun.
This friendship that developed was far beyond the friendships of my youth. For me the young friends came and went as we grew apart in our individuality, moved on, or moved away. My life has been a journey with turbulent twists and turns. But as I settle into my second half of life and learn who I have become through these circumstances of life, the growing pains recede. I begin to let go of the past and enjoy a new set of friends; friends, who know and like each other for who we are today.
There is a new set of dynamics however in these recent relationships. Youth behind us we now realize the evidence of our temporary existence as friends, old and new, begin to pass on. And so, this special friend and I shared our last days together in sadness and in joy. Together, we cherished the journey and the gifts of each day.
Rest in peace my dear friend. I miss you every day.
“Your mom is very sick.” After five years of marriage, I can read the tension on Eric’s face and feel it across the kitchen table in the grasp of his hands.
“And?” I ask. I know there is bad news to come. News that I don’t want to hear.
“Maybe you would like a cool drink. It’s been a hot day,” Eric stalls. We are in the middle of a heatwave and yet I feel a chill run down my spine.
“No. I think I know what you’re going to say.” I had been visiting Mom at Letterman Army Medical Center at Presidio of San Francisco for months, watching her fade away. Dad had mentioned a week before that Mom would be going to Stanford University Hospital to be evaluated by Dr. Shumway, a pioneer of heart surgery.
“Your dad called earlier and asked me to tell you something. Dr. Shumway says there is nothing more that they can do.”
Eric moves his chair back as I shift around the table and fall into his tender hug.
Don’t cry, I think. I’m twenty-four years old and can’t dodge the recurrent reminder of Dad’s words, “Big girls don’t cry.”
“How long?” I ask, trying to maintain composure. My temples pulse.
“Maybe a few weeks.” His words trail off as the tears come. His tears. Not mine. There’s a swift kick in my belly as I try to digest the pain. My mother will not live to see this baby, I realize.
Is Dad crying now? Is that why Eric is the one to break this news? Only Eric will witness my tears.
Four months later I sit in stoic silence at the memorial service as Rev. Boring offers words of comfort at Carmel Valley Community Church. It feels odd to have someone other than my father at the pulpit. My sister, a blossoming teenager nine years younger than me, buries her tears in a lump of tissues. I see my older brother brush his tears away on his coat sleeve. My head pounds with backed up tears. Did I imagine Dad’s gasps and sniffles?
After the service, we gather at the house. It was Mom’s dream come true, this house on the hillside above Carmel Valley. With a glass of wine propped on my growing belly, I feel the touch of my mother’s sister. Her hand is on my belly. “You are so strong,” she says. “You will make a good mom.”