A family friend left this earth very unexpectedly after a quick and vicious fight with cancer. Gary was the kind of friend that is weaved into the earliest memories of my childhood. His family was one of the things that simply did not change. As a child I spent summers in their backyard with popsicle melting down my hands and arms. Last year, our families gathered together for Thanksgiving, a night of too much food and just enough laughter. Gary was the only one who said the soup that I burned was delicious. I appreciated the lie. He was still so young. He and his wife were supposed to grow old together. And yet, last Saturday, at a service just so beautiful, I listened to his two children speak with eloquence about the man that raised them and left before it was time.
Yesterday, after a fall that she just could not get up from, the lovely woman my grandpa married last year passed into the morning. Laurel was my favorite mix of tough, tolerance and seersucker. She and my grandpa lost their first spouses to long and painful illnesses. When they met they were both on the wrong side of eighty. And yet, watching their courtship was one of the great instructions in the “how to of living” that I have received. They buzzed about in my grandpa’s too fast sports car, made marmalade into the early hours of the morning, and whispered good night in a bed that was made for two. I know she had a lovely, long life. I know their last dance in the gathering dusk was more than most people get. I still feel like she left too soon.
Last night we all gathered at my parent’s house for dinner. It was my Dad’s 52nd birthday and the day Laurel went home. It seemed like we should do something to mark the occasion and when in doubt my mom makes gourmet meals that would put Gordon Ramsay to shame. The pots simmered on the stove and my mom, my tired, hold up the world mom, hurried around the kitchen chopping vegetables and crumbling cheeses. My parents always say that activity absorbs anxiety so I got up and went about setting the table. And somewhere in between folding the napkins and placing the glasses I began to cry. Because I didn’t want the chair next to my grandpa to be empty. Because it seemed like maybe if I just set their places, the people I have lost would come in for dinner, anyhow. Because I am learning that the table stays the same but the people around it change. An, my oh my, why can’t they just stay for a little more dessert?
It doesn’t do to cry when everyone else is trying to smile, so I walked into the dining room to compose myself. It is a little room full of beautiful wood cabinets and china that has passed from old hands to young ones for generations. There, surrounded by quiet and sparkling glass, I found myself once more. I could see clearly. I am blessed with the people I get to meet, catch hold of and then lose. They have not gone far. There is a table set, but it is in my heavenly parent’s house and there is room for everyone. I simply cannot see it. The people that have gone before me are waiting for me to come home for dinner.
And, my oh my, you should see the dessert.