One of my oldest friendships ended yesterday with the premature death of my friend, Janice. She was just shy of her 58th birthday, a day exactly two weeks before mine. I feel her all around me today. She is probably happy now to be free from her cancer-ridden body and all of the physical constraints that tethered her endless sense of beauty and spirituality to the ground. She held on loosely to this life- a fact that sometimes was hard to witness… but there was never any arguing with her about how she lived. It was too full of love. She was one of the first people I had ever known who never looked at me with judgment. I learned what unconditional love felt like from loving her.
I have known her friendship for decades. She was one of the few that shared memories from before my children. She was, in fact, at the birth of my first child, where she fainted when they gave me an epidural. She was my first child’s godmother. I went to her wedding and remembered the promises that after seven year had forgotten from my own marriage. We had sons a month apart. Every single time I called her for close to 26 years, her voice would get sweet with me and she always answered, “Hey Honey.”
I remember exactly the day we met- even what she was wearing. She was beautiful and often wore deep-V necklines. On our last visit, she reminded me about the radio show project I was working on when I went for her graphic art help. She was an artist in the deepest and widest respects that one can live a life of art. She illustrated children’s books and painted huge canvases. In my hall hangs a painting with me holding my first two children that she gave for me for my 32nd birthday.
From the earliest years of knowing her, our connection was more deeply spiritual than anything else. We agreed on more than one occasion to accept everything that life had in store for us- calling it all good. That was our pact: Calling it all good. It was a practice that we fell out of and then would re-institute when we spoke again. Now it is up to me to carry on for both of us.
She was my first thought. The memories of her is all that began this day… I have yet to wrap my head around the sheer finality that death leaves us. It’s the one thing that goes on unchanged, unchanging year after year. I know from the death of another dear friend… After five years, his memory lingers in me still, but I am stunned by all that goes on in his absence. Sometimes, it still feels like he will come through the door, boisterous and funny as always; other times I can’t tell if I am remembering or manufacturing how it was when he was here, sleeping on my couch.
On my last visit with Janice just a few weeks ago, I felt a lot of grief for the many ways that I didn’t show up for her in recent years. She was in a difficult stage of her marriage, living a life I couldn’t understand. When I told her through my tears that I was sorry that I wasn’t always the friend I wanted to be, she smiled at me the way she always did and said, “I don’t remember that. I always felt only love from you.” Then she said it again… “Honey.” I am so grateful to have had that conversation with her before she left.
Now the art that I have been looking at for decades that came from Janice’s hands are priceless. She painted angels with small children, we were always sure that our kids were not only protected by them, but talking to them. I know she is up with the angels now, they are surely so glad to have her home amongst them again. We will miss her and her gentle ways down here for a long, long time.