What had prompted this admonition was shocking: Ed Keifer, one of Tim's closest male friends for many years had died of cancer. Tim reflected back on all the holidays their families had shared, watching their children grow up together. The last time Tim saw Ed, who now lived on the East Coast while Tim is in Chicago, was last June at Tim's daughter Eliza's wedding. As they toasted the occasion together, Tim looked at his obviously ill old friend and knew that this might be one of the last times they would see each other. Still, Ed's death was a shock. Tim wrote to me, grief-stricken, with new awareness of his own mortality and a heightened fear of losing other old and treasured friends.
Our old friends -- who were children with us or college classmates or co-workers when our careers were new and our lives still so open to possibilities -- are ever more precious as we age. They understand us in ways that no one else can. They know where we've been. Who we are now. They know -- firsthand -- our life challenges and triumphs, sorrows and joys. And we know theirs.
Mary, who lives in Pennsylvania and Florida, also sent me an email this week, telling me how sad she was to hear of former Mouseketeer Annette Funicello's death.
This mixture of youth and aging is an inevitable part of our long-time friendships.
Bob's best high school friend Wellington Stanislaus (Stan) calls him "Rocky" -- an affectionate nickname only Bob's high school friends ever called him. Stan, who was a popular athlete in high school, befriended Bob when he was a shy newcomer to the school. He helped Bob get a succession of summer jobs at the Camp for the Junior Blind in Malibu during the last years of high school and the first years of college. These summers still have a special place in Bob's memory -- a time when he was doing work he loved, feeling that he was making a difference, particularly when teaching the campers music. He loved working side by side with Stan and the companionship of the other camp counselors. And he greatly admired the camp's director who had used much of his wealth to build and run the camp.
Stan's life since those idyllic summers has not been easy. He spent some years in a Catholic religious order and emerged -- as another friend of mine has -- in his later years underemployed and with scant Social Security benefits. Stan is strong in spirit, but his body has been frail. He works off and on as a cook, living alone in an apartment in Fresno, CA. But when they connect on the phone, Stan and Bob slip easily back into the friendship of their youth, seasoned by the wisdom and experience of age. No one but Stan knows first hand what those summers so long ago meant to young Bob. And an older Bob rarely fails to close a conversation with his old friend without telling him that he loves him.
There are the almost daily uplifting messages from my Hawaiian friend Jeanne Nishida Yagi, one of my most treasured and enduring friends from college. She has remained filled with faith and optimism even as she has endured recent back surgery and her husband Jimmy had heart surgery. They have been recovering both apart -- cared for by family members -- and, finally, together. When I think of Jeanne, I remember the fun and challenging times we shared in college and also the unspoken depth of the friendship we still share.
There are the fun and newsy ones from my childhood friend Pat Hill. Pat and I went from kindergarten through high school together. She stood up for me in grade school when other kids shunned me because my parents weren't married in the Catholic Church. She refused to attend parties when I wasn't invited. I marveled at her courage and loyalty then and now. We've seen each other through many challenges and many changes, including her battle with spasmodic dysphonia that make speech difficult until her surgery several years ago. Now she helps others with the disorder both individually and at conferences. And I'm looking forward to catching up with her face to face when we attend our 50th high school reunion together this coming weekend.
There are cherished emails from my friend Sister Ramona, whose first year of teaching high school journalism was my senior year. That year launched a 50-year friendship that has been one of the joys of my life. Even though we don't get a chance to see much of each other -- she's now a counselor for students at Stanford University -- we keep in touch and our occasional dinners together are great fun -- and filled with her unique insights and witty observations.
When Bob and I were living together before we were married, I invited her over for dinner and Bob was aghast. "Does she know our situation??" he asked frantically. "What do I call her, for heaven's sake? I've never met a nun before. I mean, do I call her 'Your Majesty'?? Or what?? Oh, this is going to be terrible!" But it wasn't. Two minutes after she walked in the door, Sister Ramona had Bob laughing and she later came to our non-Catholic wedding in a spirit of joy and celebration.
Not long ago, Bob and I were discussing the meaning of success as well as who might be the most successful person we personally knew. He beat me to the obvious conclusion: Sister Ramona. "She has had such a lasting impact on so many lives," he said. "Hands down, she's the most successful human being I know." I smiled in agreement.
The fact that she is flying down to L.A. for the 50th reunion celebration next weekend is wonderful news!
There are the fun emails and periodic get-togethers with my high school friend Eileen Loubet Adams, who lives in Northern California, but who joins me for high school reunions at 4-5 year intervals (she was in the class behind me) and whom I see when she comes to visit her sister in Tucson. We laugh together as we remember lines from plays we did together in high school. And we have supported each other through some major challenges in our lives, mostly recently when her wonderful daughter Andrea, only 30, died suddenly of a congenital heart condition. We'll be roommates during my upcoming 50th reunion -- and also next year when Eileen celebrates her 50th!
Then there are the encouraging, loving emails from my friend Mary Breiner, whom I met more than 40 years ago when we both worked at 'TEEN. We shared so much when we were young -- dishing on romantic relationships that didn't work out and the emotional fallout of growing up in literary, but hard-drinking Irish families. We shared and accomplished our dreams of becoming psychotherapists. We also, in time, celebrated the relationships that worked -- my marriage to Bob, where she was maid of honor, and her marriage to John in 1985. We've also shared some of the challenges of aging -- John's health concerns among them -- and enjoy each other's calm reassurance, listening, caring and humor.
And then there are the fun, sweet, and loving messages from Tim Schellhardt, my best friend from college with whom I've shared a close and loving friendship for 50 years as we segued from students to working journalists to writers facing all the issues of aging -- our weight, our cardio-fitness, our triumphs and our disappointments and, most lately, our mortality and fear of losing each other and the other people whose lives brighten our own.
The singular joy of long-time friendship was underscored recently when Sharon Hacker visited us from California. She and her now ex-husband Steve were Bob's best friends during his first marriage to Sue. After Bob and Sue divorced and I came into the picture, they were kind and welcoming and became my beloved friends, too. We greatly enjoyed watching their delightful children Brian and Carrie grow up to be talented, successful and caring adults. And, for the four days she was with us, it was so lovely to look back with laughter and fond memories and somehow comforting to be looking ahead with hope, shared apprehension and a newly present sense of mortality -- together.
Sharon grew reflective as she was leaving to return home. "Let's not let so much time pass between visits," she said. "At this stage of our lives....well, you never know."
Her words have resonated and made us resolve to be in closer touch more often with all of our old friends.
Now is an excellent time to contact a dear old friend.
Now is a great time to plan a visit to see and touch and simply be with each other.
Now is the time to tell a dear old friend how much he or she has meant to you in the past and means to you still.
Now is the time .... because love shared is never too soon or too frequent... and because you never know...