Since I'm the only one of my siblings living in the town we grew up in – Atlanta – I am often the bearer of sad passings of friends from our childhoods. I monitor the obituaries daily and often send one to them, knowing they will be interested: A best friend's elderly mother, a favorite teacher, a boyfriend's dad and, just this week, an old boyfriend himself.
"He was the first boy I ever kissed," my sister Wendy said. "It was very awkward. I had just gotten braces and neither one of us quite knew how to negotiate that. It was in eighth grade!"
The notice gave no cause of death but was very upbeat, full of accomplishments and what sounded like a fun, satisfying life. But, at 66 years, too short.
It reminded me that several months ago, a classmate of hers had died and when I emailed the obit to her, she forwarded it on to two handfuls of high school friends:
“I was so sad to see she has passed away,” Wendy wrote them. “I didn’t know her very well at all but always thought she was lovely and majestic in her quiet way…Did anyone keep up with her?”
What she got back from her buddies were quick and quirky reminiscences about their friend:
“I spent the night with her some…”
“Smart gal in my Latin class but very quiet and kept to herself…”
“Funny how I remember her well, but didn’t know her at all…”
“That is tragic to hear she died so young – or that’s the way I look at it now! I did not keep up with her and I don’t think she ever came to a reunion. I remember her as quiet, smart, studious and rather shy. She seemed to be very kind and vulnerable. I hope she had a wonderful and full life after high school.”
“I did visit her once when I was in my 20s and worked near her house. We grew up together and went to E. Rivers … It’s hard to see one of our classmates and friends gone.”
“So sad. She was so much fun when we were at E. Rivers together. She was so active – tennis, walking, swimming and went to camp with all of us. I had only talked with her once since we graduated. She lived in the same house she and her brother grew up in with her mother and her grandmother. Her mother was an identical twin.”
There is nothing profound about the memories – and they do seem scant – and it does seem that even her closest elementary and high school friends had lost touch over the years.
But the point of this is that they all responded to the initial email. And for the back-and-forths that continued, they bonded over a shared loss and a few snippets of what they could recall. Most of the women, all now in their 60s, added news of trips or grandchildren or jobs, Weight Watchers, books or retirement. And a couple of them set times and places to meet for lunch in Virginia.
So even in death connections are rebooted, memories are piqued and friendships are remembered.
In this particular exchange, virtually all the writers agreed on the tempis fugit we are experiencing:
“We have a lot more living to do,” one wrote. “And gratitude.”
Susan Soper is the founder and author of ObitKit®, A Guide to Celebrating Your Life. A lifelong journalist, she was formerly the Features Editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where she launched a series called "Living with Grief" shortly after her father died. Susan lives in Atlanta with her husband.
Image via Flickr Creative Commons / Patrick Hoesly