Saturday, June 13, 2015

Losing friends--a part of aging

I went to a memorial service today for an old friend who died in February back east--his family arranged a service here in Fort Worth because he had lived here so many years, raised his children here, and made lots of friends. He left in 1986, and I probably haven't seen him since, although his ex-wife and I have remained close friends. And today I got a nice hug from his oldest son.
George was one of the happiest, most open people I've ever known. I was pleased to celebrate his life today because I have such good memories. I remember one night looking out my kitchen window when the kids, all teenagers by then, were shooting baskets and there was George out in the middle of them. Yet I also remember him walking around the block endlessly when his youngest son was a fussy infant--about the same time my youngest son was an infant but fortunately less fussy.
George was a great storyteller, and my dad used to love his company. Once George told Dad about the little boy who was five and had never said a word until one morning he said, "My toast is burned." His family all rejoiced, hovered over him, and asked why he hadn't talked. "Everything's been okay up to now." That was a George kind of story.
George was also politically active, a great liberal, and I remember going to ACLU parties at their house. I still have some friends from those parties.
The service today was in a beautiful but small Episcopalian church, and the difference in our denominations came home. For one thing they had the wrong words to some hymns--Jean made me realize they had the original words and we Disciples had changed them to make them more inclusive. But what bothered me most--and has in other Episcopalian services--was the impersonality. George's name was mentioned once--I watched. The homily was about God's grace, the gift of life everlasting bestowed upon as at baptism. I believe that, and I liked to recite the Apostle's Creed, which we seldom do in my church. But I wanted George stories. I wanted something that captured his wonderful, warm personality. I wanted to say "God be with you, George."
The service also reminded me that I am now at an age when we lose friends. I've lost two other good friends in the past year, and I remember my mom moaning that all her friends had died--she was quite a bit older than I am at the time, but I see it on the horizon. And it's depressing. Actually I'm pretty lucky--most of my friends are, like me, in good health. Knock on wood.
And, George, smile down at us from above.


Tom Doyal said...

Judy, I have had this same sense of loss as friends leave me due to mortality. I think I have lost five in the last 24 months. They still pop into my mind at odd times. I feel like I haven't dealt with death very well and I am trying to reach a more graceful and mature place on the whole issue. It is not that I lack experience. I lived through that first wave of AIDS deaths in the mid-eighties, and, as a gay man, that was a huge challenge, but the social challenges of the era were so great I was distracted from the issue of mortality and its finality.

Thanks for this essay.

Judy Alter said...

Tom, I definitely think our own mortality enters into the grieving process but in some cases so does just plain loneliness. I lost a friend a year ago who knew everything about TCU, and when a question occurs to me my instinct is to pick up the phone and call her. I guess it gets harder as you get older.
I had a friend who died of AIDS in the mid-90s, after the worst of the epidemic, and my emotion at that time was that I was so damn mad at him for being careless. A little anger still lingers--he was a big part of my life, helped raise my children.