A dear friend’s husband died last Friday. She and I worked together when I lived in California. My husband and I bought a home in the same town she and her husband lived in when we met.
PJ is such a special woman. She earned her Ph.D. in organizational development when she was well into her 50s. Age never mattered much to her. Her boundless energy propelled her in several directions at once, all the time.
When she married H., it never bothered her that he was quite a bit older than she was. No one has an expiration date stamped on their buttocks, she’d say. What mattered to her was his heart – the kind that determines one’s character.
The last time I saw PJ, we treated ourselves to a lost weekend in New York City. She flew from California and I flew from Atlanta. When we met at the hotel, it was as if no time at all had passed since our prior face-to-face encounter.
We have a lot in common. She is of Mexican descent, so she has suffered as much discrimination in life as I have as a black woman. H. was of Portuguese extraction, and while not nearly as pronounced as for PJ and me, he took his share of ethnic slurs. But none of the three of us allowed any of that to prevent us from setting goals and reaching them.
Both PJ and H. were soft-spoken and calming. Whereas I am a true Type A personality, they hovered in the Type B serenity that often served to rein me in. In short, they are, or were, one of those rare couples that remained madly in love until H.’s very last breath.
I just called PJ. She answered, “Hi, L.” Her voice was quivery. Mine was nowhere to be found. I finally squeaked out a shaky “how are you doing, Sweetheart?”
“Funny you should call at this very moment,” she said in that calm, melodious voice of hers. “I am standing in front of H.’s cremains. I’m in the process of picking up the urn.”
My heart slammed into the bottom of my gut. Great, I thought. Timing is everything, and yours, L, sucks!
“No, it’s perfect timing,” she said, ever the lady, ever the fixer. “It’s so good to hear your voice.”
No matter how many times I encounter this inevitability – death – I have yet to find a collection of words that come even close to suiting the occasion.
“I am so sorry, PJ. I have so many wonderful memories of you and H together.”
That’s it. That’s all I could muster, except for croaking through the onset of my tearfulness, “I love you, PJ.”
Her tears started then. I knew she wouldn’t hold me responsible for them, but I felt like crap anyway.
I guess this is always going to be one of those times when nothing – no words or gestures – will seem good enough to reach the level of gravitas a death commands.