The other day I was up at 5 a.m. A little early for getting my son up at the usual 5:30 to get our school day started, so I walked out to the box to get the morning paper. Usually this trip is one my mother makes in order to get her daily walk in, but I thought I would use the quiet time to at least read the headlines before we had to get the day in gear.
I was reading some story on the front page. I don't even remember what it was about. It was continued on page 7a, the inside of the back page of the first section.
Right where the obits are.
I scanned the page searching for the rest of the story when my eyes locked on a small picture probably 2" tall by 1" wide.
"I know that guy," I said to myself. I just couldn't remember who he was. My eyes flew up to the obit title. It was my best-friend-from-20-years-ago's husband. Karen's husband.
We haven't *hung out* for 20 years since we sort of slowly quit doing things together. Mostly it was my bad choice in men that prevented our friendship from enduring. I married a drunk who took up all my time and isolated me from the world while I tried to *fix* him.
She married Joe, a dream-come-true kind of guy who was everything any woman ever wanted in a man. Hunky, smart, loving, funny, a great cook, a good friend, an awesome host of the greatest keggers known to man... and a lot more I'll never know about.
Karen and Joe. The perfect couple. The ones you just knew would be together until the end of time.
I was looking at his obit and it said he died at the hospital, unexpectedly, at the age of 51.
That's not my idea of the "end of time" as was promised in all the fairy tales.
My jaw dropped and I pictured Karen hugging her pillow, overcome with sorrow and grief.
It broke my heart.
I couldn't call her because I didn't have words to say that could convey how very sorry I am for her.
Last night my sister (who used to work with Karen) went with me to the visitation.
The parking lot was packed with cars, just like the land around their place always was when the bonfire was going by the pond and the BBQ smells wafted across the hot summer nights and the sounds of laughter and pleasant conversation filled the air.
The door to the funeral home was opened by the polite and somber staff, and sounds of Lynyrd Skynyrd drifted across the room. We were led to a guest book to sign our names. I looked up and there, beside the book was an easel with a huge wedding photo of Karen and Joe.
I burst into tears.
I remember that day. It was the most magical day I ever experienced and I had always wished it had been my magic. But it was Karen and Joe's day. Karen was a beautiful angel all dressed in white with flowers ringing her golden hair and Joe was the knight in shining armor, (ok, a white tux) who was there to bring her a new life of joy.
One they both deserved. One they lived to enjoy for 16 more years.
I moved on from the guest book to cross the open doorway that led into the sanctuary where the people were gather in pews and milling about in quiet conversation.
I wasn't ready to go inside.
On the other side of the doorway was a lovingly created display of photographs. All the good times, captured forever on film. Every one of them had Joe's smiling face. Most of them were cheek to cheek with Karen's smiling face.
My sister and I looked up and I saw a face I remembered from 20 years ago but had no name to put with it. I saw lots of people I knew I knew but don't have a clue who they are. Whether it's just age related memory loss or MS stealing my past I guess it makes no difference; I am starting to accept the fact that time is robbing me of my memories.
Anyhow, this person from my past remembered me enough to smile and say "Karen was asking about you and if anyone had heard from you."
This started me crying all over again.
What a lousy friend I've been that I could let anything come between us. She'd always been the best friend a person could ever ask for and I just let this time slide by while I kept telling myself "I really need to call Karen and see how they are doing...it's been so long."
We entered the sanctuary and there on the back wall was a video of photos playing, with Joe's grin smiling over us as if to say "everything's going to be alright". I asked quietly if someone knew where Karen was and they whispered "she's down front wearing the black suit".
I made my way down there and got in line to greet her as everyone offered their condolences. She saw me over the shoulder of someone she was hugging and I could see in her eyes she was surprised and happy to see me. As happy as you can be at a time like that.
I gave her a big hug and cried in her ear, croaking out an "I'm SO sorry!"
What the hell can you say at a time like that??
She put her arm around me and we all walked over to a pew to sit and talk.
I told her just how envious I'd always been of her wonderful marriage and that she had the most wonderful guy in the world.
She tried to tell us the story of what happened, but understandably, she wasn't really able to talk about it.
From what I gathered, their time had been taken up recently with caring for a sick, elderly mother who was being hospitalized. Her's or his, it wasn't quite clear. Next thing Karen knew, she was rushing Joe to the hospital where the doctors came out and said "we're sorry, your husband is dying." And then he was gone.
She said "he new he was sick but he kept it from me."
Not sure what he died of, but that's a heck of a way for your spouse to find out.
I feel so bad for Karen.
But you know, I've speculated that if it was cancer and Joe found out a while ago, it was his right to refuse treatment, or to keep the knowledge to himself.
After all, dying is a very personal and private thing. No matter how close another human being might be to you, they will never know your personal death. They might be there to witness, but death is a solo flight.
Joe chose to keep the inevitable to himself and not dwell on it.
I don't know how long he had known he was sick before he died, but Karen said they had gotten to spend the last 3 years together 24/7 after they had both retired and she will always cherish that time.
Today is the memorial service. A tribute to his life. Afterward there is going to be a big party at the pond. Just like Joe would have thrown. Just like he would have wanted.
And after the party is over, and all the guests have gone back to their lives, I promise I won't forget about Karen.
I promise to be a better friend.
So long Joe, we will ALL miss you!