An old friend died. I heard it on Facebook. People are posting their RIP messages while my heart is sinking.
My heart is sinking because… My heart is sinking because, I think, this one hits closer to home than other deaths. Other classmates have died, but none so dear to me.
Dear to me, yes, but she was dear to all who knew her, if Facebook is any indication. Post after post calling our old chum “sweet” and “bubbly” and “kind” and “loving” and “fun.” Remark after remark extolling her “infectious” laughter, her support and friendship. The comments build, repeat and crescendo into a multi-voice chorus that announces this fact: I am not alone in feeling the sting of this loss, of her absence from the world, even though I haven’t seen her in years.
I haven’t seen her in years, so the sting of this loss makes me scratch my head a little. Why am I this sad? I think it extends beyond the regular role she played in the first long act of my own life. It doesn’t hurt so much, to keep me awake hours past bedtime to process it, because of the history I shared with this dear woman—six years at Woodbrook Elementary, four years in junior high (foxhole friends), then three high school summers of twice a day marching band practice, band camp, dance rehearsals, three football and basketball seasons of often-embarassing halftime shows in tights and shorts, fishnets and leotards, raincoats and toy soldier uniforms. It doesn’t hurt this much because of the special bond we shared over a traumatic life event we had in common. She and I both had closer friends; we lost touch after college and I moved out of state. I feel the sting of her sudden death acutely because she was one of those people.
She was one of those people with the unique ability to make each person within her sphere feel something more than “loved,” something more than “special.” Connected. With each conversation, each passing contact she made us feel connected to something worth connecting to. Something trustworthy. Something good. She didn’t distantly interact, didn’t merely co-exist with us. Her special way—genuine warmth and eye contact, sincere caring, a truly listening ear—made us feel connected to her. To connect with dear DSJ was to be kissed by her sunshine soul, buoyed by her playful spirit, warmed by that freckle-face with that moonbeam smile.
That moonbeam smile which even now, the first night of her passing, warms me still and makes my heart smile through its heaviness. Tonight, the first awful night for her family, I ache for her little boy, her husband, her parents. I grieve for them the agony they’re facing in this jarring, sudden loss of Mommy, Darling, Daughter. And I pray they will learn quickly what we who knew her all those years ago learned. Most of us who shared with her the same hallways, locker bays, principals, lunch tables, unfettered teen laughter, ridiculous choreography—and secrets—learned to live outside her sunny orbit in 1980-something.
We learned that living outside her sunny orbit didn’t cool the warmth she lent us when we were lucky enough to share the same air with her; we learned that her smile, her way, her singular spirit that assured us down to the bone that we had a true friend continued to glow, even when she was very far away. Over the years, even a 10-second memory of that girl is enough to thaw the most life-worn cynic. We learned that D’s light can’t be dimmed by distance, that it somehow reaches through time, and I pray her loved ones will know this soon.
I pray that the loved ones she leaves behind, and the friends who saw her often, will know this to be true, will feel it at a cell level: that the light from her golden heart won’t be muted. It will beam through time, will still dazzle, still warm. Her sunshine was her superpower.
Rest in peace, sweet friend. Rest in peace. Thank you for warming all of us with your pure glow.