On Saying Goodbye and New Things

Fifty-two years of anything is a long time. Fifty-two years of friendship is a blessing. I’ve written about my friend Laura*, in these pages before. Here we are in 4th grade together. She’s on the third row, third from the right.

Laura is my dear friend who saved my sanity and life in grade school, helped make high school tolerable, whose wedding I attended, and who made me a gorgeous quilt and was our first visitor after The Fire along with her husband, Ken. They made the long drive from Wichita to Dallas to give my husband and me a much-needed hug and a beautiful gift, and to share a meal. I popped up to Wichita a couple of times to visit. She came down to Dallas to see my plays. Laura gave me some really good advice this past January on my last visit to her. She could still speak then, but it was a bit difficult, so I followed her thoughtful take on my situation closely.

Laura was a most stalwart friend, and a great encourager.

I learned a lot more about her at her funeral, things I knew peripherally, but they were so good to hear, as was the outpouring of love for her from so many people. Laura influenced thousands of students in her care as a teacher to be curious, to love learning, and for many, to be inspired to be teachers themselves. Chatting with her children and her grandchildren, and her big sister Kelly, and her mom, Mrs. Moats, and sharing memories with them was a blessing. I got to hug Ken and thank him for the love and care he gave Laura over these last months, as ALS slowly had its way with her body. I also got to be with other old friends from grade school and high school, and other people Laura connected me with via Facebook, her Laura Ingalls Wilder friends, some of whom have become such good virtual pals, it was kind of weird realizing we’d never met in real life until the funeral.

Laura was a great connector.

I have a couple of observations about the lovely viewing and the church service and interment. First: It is perfectly appropriate to cry at these things, so have at it. We all understand. I’m currently writing this at the airport in a tucked away spot as I wait to board, and my eyes are leaking yet again. It’s part of the process, so please don’t be embarrassed. I tend towards a “suck it up” mentality, but this is the exception for me. It’s sad to say goodbye, so it’s perfectly okay for you to cry.

Second: I believe we all have a handful of special friends in our lives, the lifelong ones, the ones with whom you pick up a conversation easily, even if years have passed. If one of these friends dies, I hope you drop everything and go say a proper goodbye if you possibly can. It doesn’t make their going any easier, but I promise you’ll be so glad you did, and that gratitude will grow as time passes. The other bonus of going is that you learn new things about your friend from others, things you can hold onto as extra memories when the missing them gets too hard.

Third: I’ve never been a part of a funeral procession before as a driver, turning on the headlights and flashers on my rental car and following the hearse from the church to the cemetery. The one for Laura was quite a long line of cars, thirty or forty vehicles, and we had a police escort blocking intersections and stopping traffic when necessary.

Every single car we encountered along our route pulled over and stopped until we passed on both sides of the road. That gesture of respect for a stranger was so appreciated. It was beautiful to see, so if you’re on the other side of a funeral procession, please do the same. It truly meant so much to me to see Dr. Laura, my dear friend, getting that respectful pause at the end of her time above the earth.

Thank you, dear strangers, you made a difference in my life today.

On the other end of the spectrum of life, I and most of my family have moved cross-country to Virginia. This makes my 9th move with my husband over the past thirty years, so we’ve gotten good at the logistics of it, but no matter how organized you are, or how many lists you make, moving is always a huge upheaval. Of course, physically, with the packing (hint–get the small boxes from Lowes and put EVERYTHING in them, mixing heavy with light stuff and designate a spot for them and pack 2-3 boxes a day starting 2 weeks out.)  Then there’s getting it put away in the new places, and then forgetting where you put it, and having to hunt down the oven mitts before the chicken burns. We lost one box somehow in our process, and my favorite cook pan was in it, so we’ve replaced that, but it’s not the same.

The other upheaval is mental – learning a new grocery store, for example, is the bane of my existence. I like to make a list that follows the aisle order in which I’ll find it in the store, then zip through that sucker, but I’m here to tell you that’s not going to happen for quite a while at our new place. We’ve shopped at Kroger for a long time, but the store here is enormous, and I find myself wandering aimlessly through the aisles, baffled by whoever arranged it. You’d think the olives would be with the Italian food, wouldn’t you? A store worker thought perhaps they’d be in international foods, but no. The store is so big they have a whole section with the condiments to themselves, but it’s adjacent to kitchen appliances, tucked in next to that potato masher you’ve always secretly craved. Explain that one to me, I dare you. My preference is to just know where the olives are rather than having a treasure hunt, but when you move, you just have to suck it up and wheel your cart around until you find what you’re looking for. The plus side is that I’m hitting my step goal daily by being lost and confused.

I’m also learning new hiking trails and I have to say, these mountains have some excellent ones that follow the creeks and rivers. I did a four-mile loop on a mountain trail the other day that had been marked “more difficult,” as opposed to “easy,” but whoever decides these things had determined it wasn’t all the way up there in the “difficult” zone, or even a “think twice before you do this one,” demarcation.

I have a bone to pick with them and may bring paint next time to correct their signage. I finished the whole hike, of course, I’m stubborn that way, and at the times when I wasn’t heaving for air it was a beautiful, forested trail. I had my hiking poles and boots, so I wasn’t unprepared, just… the humidity of the day, the rocky path, and the freaking steepness were a bit much. I suspect the trailblazers they knew their labeling was wrong, as there were convenient benches along the way for those of us who’d been fooled into thinking that “more difficult” wasn’t really “difficult.” I can’t wait to do it again.

As I was hiking, I was thinking of Laura, just as I had done earlier in the week when I was at the National Art Gallery in DC.** She would have loved both spots for their beauty, and I would’ve loved having her with me. I like to think she was, in both spirit and memory. I had a good cry in both places. The trees and squirrels didn’t mind, and the little fellow guarding the Impressionists let me alone after making sure I was okay without even an eyeroll.

I’m wearing purple today, Laura’s favorite color, one of mine too. I’m sure going to miss her. Hold your dear ones close, let them know you love them.

*Actually, Dr. Laura, she had a PhD in Education.

**I’ll save the fun trip via Amtrack for another post.

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