…of life goes on. For me. And the 9 million neighbors outside my red door.
Beds to make,
Buses to catch.
Meals to prepare,
Meetings to attend.
Chores to do,
Children to teach.
Amidst the scurrying, the quiet prod at your gut (she’s gone). The insistent pain in the back of your throat (you didn’t say goodbye). The sudden winding as if you’d been punched in the solar plexus (it’s a world without Gigi). And the inevitable tears.
You never meant to lose touch. There was always something to do. A kid needed you. You had to get to the store before a pickup. You finally had a moment to yourself and you just wanted to relax. Or it was too late, or too early, in the day. Now you know how ‘too late’ really feels.
She’s outside the busy-ness now. We can’t hear her laugh. See that twinkle in her eye when she had a funny thought or a sudden, mischievous idea. Hear her call herself ‘Grendl’ when she was being ornery. Or even just see her raise a shaky-handed cigarette to her mouth and ruffle her hair with her other hand while she tried to get hold of a thought.
She was masterful with words and had a trick of turning the perfect phrase at the perfect time in the perfect tone (‘jolly hockey-sticks’ and ‘you mutton-head!’ and ‘how ‘bout a smokey-treat?’). She never forgot a poem (she memorized darn near all of “The Shropshire Lad” for her senior oral exams—you helped her study, but only learned shreds of it: Smart lad to slip betimes away/ From fields where glory does not stay). When she presided at The Embassy, the professor’s library at her disposal, the lucky friends spent hours in the office or the dining room, drinking Guinness and reading poetry both serious and silly (Professor Roberts had that collection of Ogden Nash, remember?).
Over the years, she anchored Euchre tables at the Embassy and all around town—into the wee hours of the night (master of the stolen deal!). She was always up for a road trip. There was never a better study partner in the middle of the night. How many hours did she spend in the Chi-O basement working— creatively procrastinating, or even just being a companion to someone working– on the lone Mac? How many times did you two take turns napping on that uncomfortable wicker loveseat, with the promise that your friend would wake you up in twenty minutes so you could make your impossible deadline?
She never, NEVER didn’t have time for a friend.
You smile, remembering those times. But then it comes to you that she’s really gone, and there’s the punch in the plexus again, and there are the tears again.
And you know that things were hard—really hard—for her. Ever since that troubled man-child kicked her in the head at the residential school where she was working. Her injury launched a nearly twenty-year swim in pain. No one could DO anything to help her. And the system got twisted around and made life even harder for her. Painkillers helped her. And hurt her. You tried to help and listen… when she called you. But mostly, the busy-ness of life went on for you and you didn’t often seek her out or check on her.
Every time you saw her, it was a happy reunion and you vowed to yourself you would not neglect to be in touch. But you did. You always did, damnit. Other, wiser friends stayed close to her, and you’re thankful that they were there for her, and you wish with all your heart that you had been, too.
There was, at least, that last visit in Marblehead. What was it—3 years ago? You’ve got to hold on to that. She came and stayed with you, and you hung out together with books. You walked around the narrow, back streets of Salem and went into the little gift shops with the goofy merchandise she loved (The Shakespeare Action Figure and the Crazy Cat Lady Action Figure…). She got to know your kids a bit, and they got to know her— a bit. She was the same Gigi, and you loved her. But she was different, too. Sometimes she would fade in and out of the conversations. She would trail off mid-sentence, or fail to respond when you were talking to her. She slept and slept, and sometimes it was hard to wake her. It scared you to see her so vulnerable, and it made you want to take care of her.
But then she had to go back to Michigan. You said goodbye, saw her set off on the highway with her sister, brother-in-law, and little nephew Joey, and then turned your attention back to your family. And the busy-ness of life went on again, particularly when your family decided to move overseas. You parted with your dog, you sold most of your possessions, closed up your house and put it on the market. You drove across the country to leave your son at college and catch a flight for London. You were totally self-absorbed in your own little world of partings and so-called grief.
And then, one night not long after you got to London, you came home late after a first night at the theater with your daughter. You flipped on your computer and auto-piloted onto Facebook, where you found a message in your inbox from Gigi’s sister. It began, “It’s with a heavy heart that I write…”
All the busy-ness of your life comes to a screeching, crashing halt.
You can’t absorb it. You don’t accept it at some level. And yet, you know that it’s real, and every moment your awareness of the new hole in this world yawns larger and darker. You mourn for her all sleepless night, lying down only to rise again and go wandering the house in search of—what? You finally lie down again, whispering the news to your husband, who stirs at your restlessness, then wakes enough to tell you how sorry he is and to try to comfort you. But you will not be comforted. You need to feel the full pain of losing this incredible person.
Over the next days, you mourn in fits. You don’t talk with your family about your feelings— just one conversation with one trusted friend. You try not to be self-indulgent. You seek the companionship—on Facebook—of other friends who loved her. You look into flights for the memorial service and decide what you already knew— that you can’t go back for it. You don’t even know anyone in this new place to help take care of the kids if you aren’t here. You condemn yourself for not visiting her in August—even though you had rationalized at the time that you were ‘only in Ohio a few days’ and you were ‘in extreme duress’ about the changes in your life. If only you had stretched yourself. If only.
And then your mind goes back to what’s important. Gigi. That rule unto herself. The original, one-of-a-kind ‘Gigi-kins.’ One part poet, one part prankster— true friend through and through. So “great God,” you say, “I pray that my dear friend is out of pain and laughing with You now. (I can’t imagine her hanging out in a robe and singing— but I guess that’s between the two of you, isn’t it?) You know her heart better than I did, and You know her suffering better than I ever could. You are the superlative of any goodness I can name— kindness, mercy, love, peace—and I just ask You, rejoicing because You are surely already doing it, to embrace my friend and fill her with the joy and peace and comfort that has eluded her for so long here on earth.”
As for you, and the busy-ness of life. You’ve asked God to forgive you. You’ve called out to Gigi, asking her to forgive you— if there’s any direct line to eternity. You Know that God forgives. You believe that Gigi would forgive you—because that was her nature, right? So what’s left is for you to forgive yourself. Maybe you can do that, someday.
Yes, you have to get on with the busy-ness of life. But don’t you EVER, ever forget what Gigi taught in her lifetime and beyond. The value of being a good friend—of listening and making time and adding joy and fun to the lives of those around you. There would be no better way of honoring her every day than of trying to be the kind of friend she was.
Meanwhile. Rest in Peace, my Gigi.