I grew up out in “the sticks”. The stretch of road that was our own had begun its life in the 1800s as a corduroy road, part of a stage coach route stretching north from Hamilton Harbor, toward the city of Guelph. In the 1950s and early 1960s, vehicular traffic on this road remained somewhat sparse, nearly non-existent. Not many people traveled past us, because our old stage coach route had been supplanted by a nice new provincial highway which was a more direct route. No one came down our road unless they were visiting someone who lived on it. Or at least, that’s how it seemed.
We lost my dad when I was about eight and a half. He’d been at home recovering from a heart attack, and succumbed to a sudden stroke. He was only in his mid forties.
After that, life wasn’t much fun for me. He’d been the parent who paid close attention, the one who would play and hand out hugs at every turn. My brother and sister, at 18 and 14, had their own lives, and my mother had her grief, an interloper who took up residence in our home and never left. There weren’t too many “kids” my age in my neck of the woods, except two girls, one of whom I really wasn’t supposed to play with (a mystery to this day).
And then, when I was 10, two very interesting things happened. I got a paper route; and a family moved in two doors down from us, and I met my new best friend.
I discovered that we had been born 8 days apart! And, she shared her birthday with a half-brother and sister, twins who had been her birthday present from her mother and step-father when she was 6.
This family was different from any other I’d ever encountered: a single mother, with five children! In my insulated world, I’d never heard of a family that didn’t have a dad, where the dad hadn’t died (as in my case). In time I learned that my friend’s mother was now separated from her step-dad, and had been divorced from her real dad. I couldn’t imagine what that might be like, because, of course, my family still bled from the too-early loss of ours.
We became good friends, she and I, and I spent a lot of time at her house. Her siblings became like my own, in many ways. I can close my eyes and see the times I slept over there, the times we all spent together. We played Canasta and Shanghai, and a board game called Shoe-buck.
She told me not that long ago that her mother, while doing the best she could, had never taken her anywhere. The only time she’d ever gone anywhere as a kid, had been with me and my mom.
A few years after my marriage and hers, for a long time, we lost touch. Life changes you and you respond to it sometimes by closing others out. We did that, my beloved and I, when the raising of the kids got really hard, when our middle child, so troubled and troubling, took all of our energy and drained most of our hope.
We re-connected again, my friend and I, about five years ago. But in the interval, I did visit her mother from time to time. Her youngest sister, who had shared her birthday, had built a house on her mother’s land, and so was close by and able to see to her needs. A visit to the older woman, often entailed a visit with the younger.
Life continued to throw challenges, as life will. My friend had already lost her first husband during that time we were apart. We lost our son. Her mother passed, sadly, when we were out of the country and I didn’t learn of it until much later. And then, just about sixteen months ago, my friend lost her second husband, a man she calls her true soul mate.
Not many months after that, I learned her little sister had cancer. This was a woman who shone, inside and out. She loved, and was loved. She’d met her own soul mate—the man who had purchased our house, that one just a few doors down from hers.
This past weekend, my friend’s baby sister was called home. It always seems wrong, somehow, to lose those who are younger than us—and yes, to a certain extent, to lose those we sometimes feel are better than us.
Loss is never easy, and oftentimes the echoes of that loss become embedded in the rhythm of our lives. I try to remember the love and the joy and the laughter that I shared with those I lose. We all of us live, and we touch the lives and the hearts of other people. Those touches become a part of that person, a tiny atom of the person they grow into being.
Those moments are eternal, and it is those moments we seek to hold close when trying to find comfort for ourselves and others in our bereavement.
My friend wished her little sister to fly with the angels; I have no doubt, whatsoever, that she is doing exactly that.