My friend died Thursday.
She was 52. She was a wife and a mother of two boys. She loved Manhattan, Joan Didion and berry cobbler.
She adored our book club. She lapped up every selection — even the more esoteric choices (Gina Kolata’s Flu, Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink) the rest of us slogged through.
She took immaculate care of herself. She practiced yoga. She went to the gym. When she was diagnosed with celiac disease a few years ago, she researched it diligently to learn its causes and treatments, then faithfully eliminated all gluten from her diet. (No more book club cobbler.)
She was funny. She regaled us with stories of her elderly mother’s insistence that Barack Obama was her brother.
She was fierce. She loved her sons with a mother’s single-minded determination and was counting the days until May, when her oldest will graduate from college.
Last April she traveled to Spain to spend time with her eldest son. She got a sinus infection that wouldn’t go away. When she came home, her doctor informed her that the nasal cancer she had survived 19 years earlier had returned. She lost an eye and part of her face. She lost her mobility.
On Thursday, she lost her life.
Fifty-two is a profane age at which to die. My friend howled at the unfairness of it. She pleaded for life, allowing in her darkest days how disappointed she was that she wouldn’t see her children grow and marry and have babies. Then — in the grace and dignity that were hallmarks of her life — she accepted that death was coming to her early.
Now, we’re left with the task of making sense of her passing — which, of course, we can’t. But we try. We gather for breakfasts, for coffee, for tea, where we share our memories — of her last days, yes, but also of the too few years we knew her. We lift up her sons and her husband in prayer. We build a monument of words and gratitude to the life she lived.
We’ve decided to meet one last time as a book club. None of us can imagine continuing that monthly gathering without her. So we’ll come together one final time to celebrate her spirit and her life. We’ll cook her favorite dishes and regale each other with our memories. We’ll cry, but we’ll also revel in the person she was and the happy, good life she lived.
Good-bye, my friend. We love you.