This week, I buried my friend.
I met Tony as a freshman at Boston College and honestly, we had lost touch over the last ten years or so, yet the event touched a part of me that was visceral. As our college friends gathered to celebrate Tony’s life and the memories we shared, an uncomfortable awareness closed in on my psyche. Each of us, months from our 60th birthdays and Tony just 20 days short of the “goal”, had seen the best of times – wild, crazy youth when we traveled in a pack, partying our way through four Jesuit themed years with reckless abandon and miraculously, all of us surviving. The boys referred to themselves as the Five Kings and their connection was on a different level from the average “bromance”. They were a unit – and the rest of us, grateful to be allowed into at least the first layer of the inner sanctum of their friendships. In the days after B.C., the friendships continued, and we remained close knit. As time went on, couples formed while others chose to be singletons, yet we were connected and the girlfriends and boyfriends of our core group became husbands and wives. Being the first to marry and have children, my husband and I were a novelty and although we couldn’t keep up with the debauchery as we once did, we were still included in years of July 4th parties at Tim’s parents’ home in Plymouth, Pete’s New Year’s bashes in North Reading, and Tom’s cottage rentals on Cape Cod. It was a closeness that ran deep and despite years of distance, as we gathered as mourners, the fondness was palpable among the friends, now one less.
In 2005, a flurry of milestones brought us all together again – our 25th B.C. reunion, Tom’s ordination into the priesthood, and our 25th wedding anniversary. After years of raising our children, nurturing our careers, and growing up, we brought our much older selves to each event with excitement and an awareness of our maturity. The reunion was held in the Rat in B.C.’s Lyons Hall, a place where many a class was skipped, games of cards were played, jokes were told, and friendships formed. Just weeks before, we gathered at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross to celebrate Tom as a newly minted priest, bringing a smirk to many of our faces as we called up memories of our salad days and few wild nights. And there was one last gathering, in the fall, where we celebrated the 25 years of my marriage to the “other” Tim and the fact that we all hadn’t changed a bit.
My first reaction to the news of Tony’s passing was the acknowledgment of the fact that death could come at any time – as we are living our lives, working at our careers, enjoying our children and our grandchildren. Today could be it! The end! Fini! I felt a panic in my gut – I’m not done yet! I’ve got so much left to do. I wondered if those same thoughts ran through Tony’s mind as his heart seized and he lost consciousness. Is it easier to go without warning? Or is a terminal diagnosis with a designated expiration date a chance to make it all right with the things undone and to say the unsaid words that are often regretted?
As I stood at Tony’s funeral with the “B.C. side of the family” (it happened that the whole group clustered, seemingly naturally), I gazed at Tony’s parents, both still alive, burying their son. The sadness that they felt must be immeasurable and almost unbearable. But even more, I was drawn to Tony’s sweet, gentle wife, Judy. I took in a sharp breath, placing myself in her spot vicariously and thinking that I never want to be standing there, cloaked in sadness, knowing that life is forever changed and questioning the purpose of my life without my best friend, the love of my life.
I think about the quote on the gravestone of the poet W.B. Yeats in Drumcliffe Cemetery, at the foot of Benbulben near Sligo Town in Ireland. On the slab of Kilkenny black marble, the inscription reads, “Cast a cold eye, on life, on death. Horseman, pass by.” These words are the last lines of one of Yeats’ last poems and most likely intended by him as his epitaph. Perhaps his message is that it is pointless to focus on life or death. Life, like death, happens without much effort since the life force springs from a place yet to be understood fully. However, how can we not focus on a life that offers such wonderful joy, such tremendous sorrow, and such amazing lessons that serve as guideposts on the way to the next trial?
So I, like Tony, will continue to live not knowing the day or time when it will be finished, that is, my time here in this world. I will cherish it all, good and bad, joy and sadness, the easy lessons and the difficult ones. I will travel and seek experiences that take my breath away. I will love even more deeply than I have before, holding tight to my husband, my children and grandchildren, my friends that are my family, and hope that in the end, it is memories of recklessness, and Cape houses, family and friends, joy and a life well lived that remain.