Only after I'd written my mash letter to the kids' doctor did I get the news: the father of Eldest's best friend -- a doctor, as it so happens -- had died that morning. His friend called to tell me, saying, "You were asking how my dad was the other day, so I thought you should know that he died at 10:30 this morning."
Bereft, he was, and the pain in his voice pierced me, causing a pain in my heart far less than what he surely must feel. It cuts, those words. It cuts, that knowing. It cuts, the voice of my own words murmuring insignificant words of sorrow for him, for his sister, for his mom.
Oh, sure, I said the "right" things. But that description can only truly exist within quotation marks at a time like this.
He is 14. His sister turns 16 in weeks. His mother has only just gotten through her cancer and chemo and radiation.
For more than three years they have collectively lived to fight battles no one at their ages, at their life stages, should have to fight. For more than three years, his father has had the worst of times, always highlighted, I am certain, by the impact his illness had on his children.
Eldest's best friend called back Friday night to tell me of the service times because I had asked him to. I don't know if he would have if I hadn't asked. His family has borne much of the tragic circumstances on its own, privately, always with upbeat news of how his father was faring and how his mother was faring and how they all were faring.
Eldest was the boy's only friend at the cemetery for the service and at the reception at the house afterwards. His friend's sister had one friend in attendance as well. Family and former colleagues were a strong showing at the service, but few but family made it back to the house.
The others could go immediately back to their lives, the ones they lived before his death and the ones they live again. Eldest and I lingered in another life for a bit longer, but we have since returned to our own lives. We talk of placing ourselves in their situation, but it is only talk. For we are all still here.
And they are not.