Till Death Do Us Part

Most days I don’t stop. I may stop doing the things I want to do, but, like most people, I tend to forget about the work-life treadmill I’m on until something blows a fuse.

Saturday night the entire circuit breaker popped when I returned home from my writing group to hear of the death of an old family friend. This friend was at our wedding, standing up as a surrogate father to my husband whose own parents had died several years before. Our friend had lived a full life but had been plagued with chronic health problems at the end of his life, and, while the news saddened both of us, it was not unexpected.

I didn’t cry Saturday night, however. Nor did I cry last night as we rushed to pack and get on the road for a four hour drive in hopes of beating an inconveniently-timed winter storm. I didn’t even cry as we were driving to the cemetery. As we drove from the entrance of the cemetery to the site of the service, however, and I began to think of our friends saying their final goodbye to their father and husband and grandfather, I did cry.

It was raining and snowing, and the service was brief with words of ritual from the rabbi and words of remembrance from our friend’s family. It was only as the ceremony ended and the attendees formed lines of comfort for the departing family that I realized that all my tears had been for the family and their loss but not for this man whom we loved so much, and it was not until we regrouped for the more informal memorial in the afternoon that I understood why.

Our friend’s daughter had arranged a luncheon following the graveside service. The atmosphere was subdued but not somber as his friends and family stood at the podium and offered their memories of this man. As we nibbled at our lunch we heard from his fellow World War II vets, former classmates, and friends about his contributions and his kindness.

And with each story from an old comrade-in-arms or former co-worker, one thing that stood out was the fact that this man and his now-widow had been married for almost 60 years. Almost every old friend at the podium had been married equally long. In a country with a fifty percent divorce rate, my husband and I were surrounded by couples who had been married for more years than we had been alive. To be sure, there were some exceptions, but the prevalence of long-married couples in the room got me thinking about why I had cried so little and about my own expectations from life and marriage and love. Here were people warmed by the memories of their friend and buttressed by each other.

I began to realize that I could not cry for this man that we love. I can cry for the people who lost him (our family included), but to live and die surrounded by people you love and have loved for most of a long, productive life is a life and and end very few people ever achieve.

Years ago, on our wedding day our friend stood up to wish us and our guests ‘Nachus’, the hebrew word for joy. I think of his words often and never more so than today when we witnessed exactly what he was talking about. He had lived for his family and friends and in deriving joy from them, had given it back exponentially. So, as we left, I was not thinking about the things we lost but the lessons and blessings we will keep with us forever because we were friends.

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