From the moment we heard the news, we were sad, very sad. And uncomfortable.
My husband had known them for almost 40 years. I came on the scene much later but regarded them as good friends. Very good friends. We stayed with them; we shared joys and sorrows; we were close.
Close enough to know of their many tragedies. Her first husband died in a car accident when their son and daughter were young. Tragedy #1. A photo and phone call later, She came to know our friend, Him. Six months later they were married. Sometime later, a new baby boy made three children in the home. Until that baby boy died after five short days of life due to a heart defect. Tragedy #2. My husband, their friend and pastor, presided over the funeral.
A few years later, another baby boy was born. Things were fine–until they weren’t. He wasn’t growing in the usual way. As he went through childhood and his teenage years, he was given growth hormones. Still, he didn’t look quite right. Yet, he hiked and skied and went to college. He grew his wavy hair long to cover his oversized head and to hide hearing aides. As he was taking out the trash one morning, he died. He was 28. Tragedy #3. By this time, this family had become my close friends, too. My husband presided at the funeral of their second son.
The two children from Her first marriage were grown and working. In fact, they and their spouses ended up working at the family business, which had grown in scope to earn them all a comfortable living. Outright success, by financial standards. All was well, until His brother, His only sibling who was also a business partner, committed suicide. Tragedy #4.
We continued to keep up with this couple. We continued to feel close to this couple. When our political leanings became apparent, we chose to talk about other topics. We still loved each other. We still felt like “family.” On one of our visits a few years ago, we found out the heartbreaking news that both of the wife’s grown children and their spouses had a major “falling out” and cut themselves (and the two grandchildren) completely off from our friends. Tragedy #5. We’re not privy to all the details, but religious differences seemed to be involved.
I’ve written about my own son not keeping in touch with me as much as I’d like. This is nothing compared to what happened to our friends. My son takes my calls, responds to my texts, and we see each other. He says he loves me. He paints pictures for me. I have it so good compared to our friends who have been shut out from their children’s and grandchildren’s lives.
We got the call a little over a week ago. It was Him. He texted that his wife, the love of his life, died at 4:30 that afternoon. She was in her 60’s; not old, not previously sick. Our friend requested no calls. My husband responded to His text, and He texted back these five letters: COVID.
We drove the five hours to the funeral. We had learned that the husband, the now-deceased wife, and the husband’s 95-year old mother all had gone through COVID. All had been severely ill. Two out of three survived. None were vaccinated. This was something we would disagree about, and we hadn’t talked about it with them. So, mixed in with our grief over our friend’s untimely passing was the question of whether She might have survived if She’d gotten the COVID vaccine. The statistics say She’d have had a better chance.
And here’s another way sadness and discomfort mixed. The funeral was held in a state and specific county where vaccine rates and mask-wearing continue to be low. Simplistic religion prevails among many: “God’s will” and “faith” and “when it’s your time” and a “better place.” Versus God’s will to provide us with brains to make sensible decisions. Versus faith in scientific research that creates life-saving medicines. Versus taking personal responsibility to prevent your own untimely death (and the untimely death of others). Versus making THIS place here on earth a better place. Those are some of the discomforts we were feeling. We wanted to be there (literally) for our friend. And we did go, and my husband presided and eulogized as he had for two other funerals.
Another discomfort had to do with the estranged part of the family–the wife’s son and daughter, their spouses, and the two grandchildren. We knew them; we liked them. We wondered if they’d been made aware of their mother’s COVID infection. We don’t know. The husband did tell us that He had informed them of their mother’s passing. He thought they would be at the funeral.
He sent us a copy of the wife’s obituary. None of Her children, their spouses, or the two grandchildren were mentioned. Uncomfortable, to say the least. None of them attended their mother’s/grandmother’s funeral. Tragedy #7.
We were two of just a handful of people who wore masks at the funeral. Uncomfortable. So uncomfortable that we started out NOT wearing them. We hoped our vaccines would protect us. Uncomfortable. We connected with the husband, and He was truly heartfelt in thanking us for coming and for my husband giving a sermon/eulogy for our dear friend. My husband and He did mention the wife’s son, daughter, and grandchildren in the service. For all to hear. Except the ones who were missing. Except the ones who needed to hear.
The chapel was overflowing with friends and other family members. We were told to sit with the family, and when my husband finished his part of the service, he joined me in the last row of the reserved section. And you’d think with all these family tragedies, all this heartache, well, it would all be so sad.
We did shed tears. The funeral took place on the exact date of our friends’ 40th wedding anniversary. In-between crying, we laughed. We laughed as we heard story after story about all of the wife’s adventures and gullibility and forgetfulness mingled with her ability to make every one of us feel oh so special and loved. She hosted us all. She cooked for all of us. She would scoop up a spider to set free outside at the same time Her husband was out hunting. She babied her dogs and let them sleep in His and Her bed until a tick mysteriously appeared on Her forehead one morning. Her clothes went missing after She arrived at a friend’s house for a weekend visit, only to discover that She’d failed to latch the compartment in the truck bed. She kidded a thin friend about causing the porch swing to break where they’d been sitting together, one ending up on top of the other as a side gave way.
So many stories. So many friends. So many memories. Just as the porch swing had given way under pressure, so did our discomfort give way under the pressure of tragedy and heartache. It gave way to humanity and oneness–despite masks or no masks; despite vaccines or no vaccines; despite hurt feelings and missing family members.
In reflecting on all this, I realized how good I have it. My perception of being not as close as I would like to my own son doesn’t hold a candle to the abject heartbreak and tragedy this other family has experienced. My perspective has changed. I have it good, and I need to appreciate that. They have had it bad in so many ways, but they still managed to see lots and lots of good. And they have shared that good with us and others year after year. We were part of their family; and they ours.
I did see my son over the weekend. We ate together. Right before my husband and I drove to the funeral.