It wasn't until after I graduated high school that a close friend of mine lost a parent. It was actually in the spring semester of my freshman year of college that, in quick succession, three deaths occurred: a friend's father, the nephew of my mom's boyfriend, and then my own friend from high school. I can't imagine how devastating it was for the families of all three of the deceased.
Since that spring semester my college freshman year, there have been many deaths which have touched me and mine. Now that my kids are all nearly grown, I breathe a sigh of relief for them that they have remain remarkably unscathed.
When I started writing this post, I actually had an idea of what I wanted to say. I don't know if I do anymore. As often happens, I guess, when you live in an area long enough, your circles of acquaintances and friends overlap repeatedly. A mother whose kid played soccer with Youngest at 5 turns up waiting outside the basketball court for her now-8-year-old kid's game to start while my kid's game wraps up, and then reappears at back to school night in middle school, and ends up being part of the meal train for a fellow parent whose spouse is ailing.
I think I first met Ben and his wife Julie about five years ago. They have a daughter and a son. The daughter is a junior in college. The son is a sophomore in high school. When Youngest first started playing soccer competitively, he played with kids a year older for a couple of seasons. Ben and Julie's son was on that first team. He's gregarious, that Ben. Anyone who encounters him, he counts as a friend for life. Active in the schools and sports, Ben has circles of folks from all walks of life in this town.
The meal train started in early November, about the time JV soccer had its tryouts with Ben as assistant coach. Pete made a batch of fried chicken and mashed potatoes. Dates to choose to bring a meal were snapped up and three meals a week were set for months on end.
In mid-December, upon our return from England, I ran into Ben at a Japanese restaurant. He didn't come right out and say it -- Youngest was with me -- but when asked how he was doing, he remarked that it was a process and the measure of a person was how he got through that process.
Mid-baking frenzy with my kids all here, and I get a burr up my butt to make a cheesecake. So I do. But with only three cheesecake-eating folks in the house, I've got to give away half if we are to have any hope. So I call Ben up and say, "Hey, want half a cheesecake?" Spur of the moment, I ask Youngest if he'd like to accompany me to deliver the cheesecake and raspberry compote. Which is how we end up at Ben's house a few days ago.
Youngest stands at the precipice of the house, safely in the hallway. I stand in the kitchen with Ben, as he tries the cheesecake and the still-warm raspberry compote on it. He has just brought Julie home from treatment. She loves cheesecake, he says, so he knows she'll devour it. I don't see Julie. I go to leave after a few minutes of chatting, retrieving Youngest from the living room, where he eventually joined his friend only after being told by Ben that it was safe to go further into the house.
I repeat my standing offer of anything you need, anything I can do, anything at all.
She died New Year's Eve. I had just washed the dish that had held the cheesecake when I got the news.
I don't really believe in forces colluding in the universe except when it comes to tennis balls. Every time Corrie the Wonder Mutt loses a ball, the universe lets me find a replacement one. I thank the universe every single time. I will now assign to the universe an additional miracle: the desire to make a cheesecake.