On the Loss of a Friend

One of my dear friends, Pat Henderson, passed away while I am far from home. The reality of the loss has not completely hit me because in my mind’s eye, she is still sitting on her front porch watching the world go by or comfortably ensconced in her favorite overstuffed chair in her living room. Unlike other neighbors, I have not seen the funeral bow tied to the entrance of her home. And, I know that out of habit, the first place I will look when I return home in March is Pat’s house, but she will not come out to wave at me and holler across the way, “Welcome home, neighbor.”

I will miss her. I will miss sitting with her on her front porch in late afternoon watching the sun set. From her perch on the front porch she invited us to sit with her. Pat’s laughter was contagious. I have a lovely group of neighbors and Pat’s porch was where we gathered in the gloaming of the day. She encouraged us to us to come sit a while and do nothing other than visit with each other. It was a time to pause and forget about the trials of the day. Pat’s porch was a knitting point for the neighborhood.

Pat was a card-carrying, joyfully cantankerous woman. She loved living, her family, her friends, and our little community. She loved the color purple, shopping, visiting the beauty salon to have her hair done; she loved spending time with her large family.

I used to watch for her red Chevrolet Impala pulling into her parking space. Our neighbor, Marion Davis, rolled her garbage can out for her each Wednesday afternoon. Shirley Weeks cared for Pat’s flowers and many others in the community enjoyed helping her with her chores. When she had been to the grocery store, I rushed over to help her bring in her groceries. These acts of kindness made us all better people.

There is a now a hole in our community, our circle of friends. There is one less hand to hold, one less person to laugh with, and one less person to care for. I have lost the sound of her laughter. It is a time of adjustment for all those who knew Pat Henderson.

One of my friends noted recently in an email that she had lost three good friends in the previous month and how sad it had left her. She further noted that she felt as if she was being selfish in that she could not shake the feeling of loss. I don’t think she could have been more wrong. Because, when we lose a close friend, we lose so many things that go unnoticed. We are forced to adjust our daily living. And we are encouraged to avoid grieving, a human emotion that is primal to our existence.

We knew Pat was ill and that one day she would not be with us, but harsh realities are often pushed to the back of the closet where we pretend it will never really happen. When my cousin, Phyllis Henline, died, I had spent many nights with her. Death stood just outside the door, but we never had the nerve to speak of death or how we would continue living without her. I didn’t do a very good job of living after her funeral. The void was too big and too quickly there were other family deaths. So, therefore, I am a big proponent of setting side time to properly grieve.

When we lose a friend…we lose part of our future. It certainly changes our future. Our ancestors knew that death causes a seismic shift in our personal worlds. They knew the importance of grieving.

In this disposable age we have dispensed with many of the old funeral rites. Our forefathers understood the importance of taking time to grieve.

I am not recommending that we return to the days when we held wakes and brought the casket back to the house for visitation, but I am suggesting that we set more time aside for grieving. It is after the funeral that the void comes in and sits down next to us. The grieving is not over when the last hymn is sung and we follow the casket to the grave.

Today, we return to work the next day or as soon as possible…to begin again, as if nothing has happened. What if we still wore black arm bands for thirty days following the funeral? It would be an outward sign of our loss and honoring the ones who have gone ahead. It would help us in our grieving and possibly create a kinder world. Many religions still do this today and it would not hinder our office work. It would only by a symbol of respect and a way to silently grieve.

Funerals are for the living, those who grieve. We need to acknowledge this. Grief, like a fog, hovers about the friends and family of the departed for many months and, sometimes, years.

W. H. Auden wrote a poem entitled Funeral Blues. It captures the essence of grief. I would like to offer a verse from it to all who have recently lost a loved one or a close friend.

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos, and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead
Put Crepe bows round the white neck of the public doves
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

I believe that just as a river winds around a bend and disappears from sight, it is still there, though out of sight. So it is with death. Our loved ones have only gone ahead, around the bend, where they wait for us to laugh and love again. Good bye, Dear Pat, thank you for your laughter, friendship and the memories. We grieve for you.

— From Ferry Tales, a monthly column by Judy Rozzelle in the Mt. Island Monitor, Huntersville, NC

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