Sharon Randall: Losing a longtime friend
By Sharon Randall
One of the best things about a long life is having friends you’ve known and loved for years. But losing a longtime friend is one of life’s hardest blows to bear.
Joyce and I met more than 25 years ago on the patio at church. She was talking with a mutual friend, and when I heard her accent, I barged right in.
“Where are you from?” I said.
“North Carolina!” she said.
“So am I! Where ’bouts?”
When transplanted Southerners meet, they like to pinpoint hometowns. Joyce was from Elizabeth City. I was born in Hendersonville. We had both gone to California after college and stayed to raise our children.
She was a marriage and family therapist, married to a clinical psychologist. I was a journalist married to a basketball coach. We didn’t have a lot in common. But when people grow up in the same place and time, they know things about each other that not everyone knows. It took no effort at all to become friends.
One of the things I liked best about Joyce was her husband. David was the best listener I’ve ever met. He would listen to whatever you said, no matter how long you took to say it. He would hear you out completely, mull it over, and then make a comment or ask a question that you would remember and think about for years to come.
I loved that about him. I loved his wit, his depth, his kindness and compassion. I especially loved how he loved Joyce.
I grew so fond of him I’d say to Joyce, “How’s that man of yours that I love more than I should?”
And she would laugh and say, “He loves you, too!”
I know some great couples, but Joyce and David were truly a match made in heaven.
Joyce joined a prayer group I was part of. We met once a week for years, six women with full lives, to drink coffee, share concerns and pray for each other. It was at the beginning of an especially difficult period for me. My husband had recently been diagnosed with colon cancer. In the next four years, he would undergo multiple surgeries, with chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
During those years, and in the long months after his death, those women, including Joyce, were godsends for me in the truest sense of the word.
The day my husband died, Joyce placed a wreath on my gate and sat with me for an hour while I told her the story of how my husband left this world.
It is a holy thing, a sacred gift, to be present and bear witness to the passage of a loved one from this life to the next. There is often a great need to share it, to talk about it at length.
I had spent hours that day sharing news of my husband’s death with family and friends. But I longed to tell the whole story. Joyce listened to every word. Then she hugged me and told me to get some rest.
That was 20 years ago. When a friend called recently to tell me David had died, I shouldn’t have been surprised. He’d been ill for years, first with Parkinson’s, then cancer. Joyce had told me the end was near. But even when it’s expected, death always comes as a surprise.
David’s memorial service last week was a grand celebration of a life well lived. My favorite line was from his daughter. Her dad, she said, was a cross between theologian Thomas Merton and comedian Steve Martin.
Afterward, at the reception, friends took turns sharing stories and memories of David.
I had one thing I wanted to say but saved it to tell Joyce as I was leaving. First, I made her promise to call when she’s ready to go to dinner. Maybe she’ll tell me the story of David’s passing.
Then I told her, “Get some rest.” It’s the best advice I can give. The second best is, “Do what you want.” I’ll tell her that when we go out to dinner.
Finally, I hugged her neck and whispered in her ear: “I loved him more than I should.”
Then I left her standing there alone, surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who loved her and her David just as I did.
And she was still smiling.
Sharon Randall can be reached at P.O. Box 416, Pacific Grove, CA 93950 or www.sharonrandall.com.