Passage of time and loss of friends dampen the warmth of summer

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The summer has been a little rough on my extended circle. June stunned with the sudden passing of a friend just a few years my senior; July knocked us over with the death of a classmate my younger son's since elementary school. But the seventh month’s unkindest cut was the demise of my longtime pal and singing partner, Helen.

The summer has been a little rough on my extended circle. June stunned with the sudden passing of a friend just a few years my senior; July knocked us over with the death of a classmate my younger son's since elementary school. But the seventh month’s unkindest cut was the demise of my longtime pal and singing partner, Helen.

We had been acquainted since high school. Most of the passing years our paths crossed infrequently, but much more so in the last decade and a half. She was a founding member of my music group; the four (and later, five) of us rehearsed diligently and happily performed on the highly rewarding circuit of retirement villages, nursing homes, and hospital wards.

Helen was the heart of the ensemble, handling most of the bookings, soothing bruised egos, and, no matter whose home our just-after-work rehearsals they place in, making sure there was something good to eat. After the group broke up, she stayed in regular contact, sometimes organizing a one-off gig for this community event or that charitable cause.

Her memorial brought back the many ways in which she was so endearing. Her fierce loyalty to friends and family was in evidence throughout the wall-to-wall attendance at the funeral home.

Everyone had a story of how Helen had touched their hearts by opening hers, how she’d put her own problems aside to help someone else with theirs.

I could not help but think she'd spent her time on earth quite well — organizing and executing reunions with far-flung kin, researching and documenting the family genealogy, lavishing warm hospitality on visitors to her home, doting on nieces, nephews, grandchildren, and friends, never hesitating to make the drive, no matter how far, if someone she cared about was in need, taking younger relatives on adventures domestic and international, sharing her love of justice and of the environment with anyone who would listen… the list goes on.

And when the final illness came, she submitted gracefully to the myriad indignities of modern medicine, the long parade of white coats and educated guesses. In my visits to her hospital room, she spoke of the absurdity of all the discomfort required in order to maybe, possibly, perhaps get better, but she did not grumble.

On her deathbed at home, I told her how gracious she was putting up with all that medical nonsense. She allowed herself the small indulgence of saying she was a little annoyed she had to go through all that, though she did not use the word, “annoyed.”

Now she is gone, and my years of life, the same number as Helen’s, do not seem as well accounted for as hers.

Mom once said the worst part about getting older was burying friends. I thought it was all about losing your close companions, but it seems the passing of the peer is also a mirror into which you cannot help but look.

Pat Grimes, a former South Bay resident, writes from Ypsilanti, Mich. He can be reached at pgwriter@inbox.com

Passage of time and loss of friends dampen the warmth of summer