My brother called with news that unexpectedly hit me like a ton of bricks. My late parents’ dear friends from the “old” synagogue had died — the wife first and then the husband only two months later. COVID? Who knows? More likely a broken heart after so many years of sharing a life together. Memories flooded back along with the pervasive guilt of not staying connected with this special couple despite often seeing their names in my contact list and knowing I should call.
This couple was front and center in my parents’ group of “synagogue friends.” A special category of friendship that was forged over setting up model seders for the Hebrew School, Sisterhood meetings, the Men’s Club running bingo every Monday night, Board meetings, gossiping about the other congregants and the Rabbi, and supporting each other in their new frontier of parenting.
There was never a time when A* called (on the yellow rotary dial telephone in the kitchen) that my mom did not eagerly run to pick up.
A* was the woman who collected the money from the friends and procured the gifts when anyone was sick or had a special simcha. A* hosted the annual friends’ new year’s eve party and even sensibly moved it to new year’s day when the friends could no longer drive comfortably at night.
A* and husband D* were at my brother’s bar mitzvah, my wedding, my children’s namings, my children’s mitzvahs. And A* was the first person my mom called when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. A* was the person who tracked my mother’s 24-year battle and reported back to the “friends.” And as A* and D* got out of the car at the cemetery, my brother and I noted that they finally looked older. Their aging just did not seem possible.
It took me several days to realize what was at the core of my profound grief. On the surface, it was knowing that another piece of my parents’ lives was gone. And a little deeper, it was losing two more people who were always rock steady and there for milestone family events. But the gut-wrenching grief came from the reality and horrific dread that friends die and that is a vastly different inevitability than a parents’ death.
At 59, I have experienced the premature loss of some friends. But the pervasive dread of losing my closest friends is something I cannot even begin to deal with, and it gets pushed to the recesses of my mind. Only to surface when the cellphone rings with friends sharing health scares and reports from medical imaging and testing. An occurrence is happening more often these days.
So….COVID Shmovid…it is time to arrange a Zoom game night with my synagogue friends, to have a zoom happy hour and get caught up on each other’s lives, to reminisce over raising young children to young adults, to recognize and honor how precious our time together really is. And to dream about the day coming soon when we can all embrace as friends having gone through another experience together.