Recently I attended a dear friend’s funeral. As befitting Susan’s personality, it was a beautiful, sunny spring day. I sat with hundreds of other mourners in a light-filled, stained-glass sanctuary. Maybe we all thought the same thing — Susan was taken too soon and too suddenly. But as I listened to the service in that old Connecticut church, I realized six remarkable things…
The people in our lives help shape certain eras — I met Susan seven years ago at an ongoing writer’s workshop. She sat to my right, a stylish sixty-something blond who usually had a scarf draped artfully around her neck. She was elegant and poised with a ready smile.
One day we were sitting around on break and I inquired where she lived. “Weston,” she replied. I asked if she knew our good friends, Neil and Lisa, who also lived in town. She looked at me, surprised. “They’re my neighbors!”
What a happy coincidence. Maybe Susan and I were meant to meet. I had a strange feeling then that a new era had begun… and I was right.
We’re defined by our passions – Not only did Susan love to write, garden, and summer on Block Island, but she was a gourmet cook. She enjoyed throwing dinner parties, and soon my husband Randy and I were invited with other couples to the house she shared with her great love, Bill. Susan also loved animals. No dinner party was complete without at least 3 dogs running happily amok and a cat jumping on your lap during salad.
When you went to her house for lunch, you didn’t just get a turkey sandwich with chips (which you get at mine). You’d get velvety shrimp bisque with just-baked rolls and a salad with homemade vinaigrette. Susan sometimes talked about starting a food blog and her fellow writers always encouraged her to do so.
We’re known through the love of others –I happened to be over her house the day of the Sandy Hook tragedy. She and I watched in horror as events unfolded on television. One thing that struck me was how all three of her children called that day. I was touched by how even though they were in their early twenties and more or less, “launched,” they still wanted to check in with their mother. Its like they had to reassure themselves that all was still right in their world. To me, it spoke a lot about her as a person.
There is always something to learn about someone – I didn’t realize until I got to know Susan better that she had some great stories to tell about New York City society in the 1980’s. She once mentioned she had worked for the New York Public Library’s Public Affairs department. I’d sit spellbound as she told tales of Betsy Bloomingdale, Pat Buckley and Mick Jagger. I realized then she was both sophisticated and down to earth.
Funerals are strange things. Summarizing a life always feels inadequate, but it’s all we humans can do. It reminds me of ending a play that’s run its course. The main character takes a bow. The curtain comes down. The lights turn off and the stage is bare. The audience has one last chance to applaud and we all return sadly home. All that’s left are memories.
People live on. I swear, I sat in that beautiful, sun-filled sanctuary and felt Susan’s presence. I saw her in the white lilies on the altar and the heartfelt (and sometimes anguished) messages of love from her family. I felt it in the songs we sang and the rich music that filled our souls. I saw it in the eye dabbing and sniffles of friends and colleagues who will miss her.
I got to spend this past New Year’s Eve with Susan. Had I’d known this was my last time seeing my friend, I would’ve hugged her tighter and gazed longer as we said goodbye. But it’s all so mysterious. We’re taken when our role has ended.
I’ve often said to my husband that if I had an older sister, I would have loved her to be like Susan. And in many ways, I’ll always think of her like that.
Yes, people do shape the eras in our lives and my time with Susan was a happy one. It began sitting around a writer’s workshop table…and ended, too soon, in a beautiful, sun-lit Connecticut church.
Have you lost a dear friend? Comments are always welcome and if you’d like, feel free to share. Thank you.