The other day I received a call from my friend Steve. I met Steve during high school; he is another charter member of the Frazier Thomas Band. We were very close friends until one day we were not.
I won’t regale you with the specific reasons, suffice to say that we did not speak for many years. Despite missing his company from time to time, I would never have reinitiated contact with him, it being my strong sense that I had been an aggrieved party. However, after many years passed, Steve unexpectedly reached out to me. I was receptive and happy to hear from him. We at once restored our friendship, as if there had been no schism, and now keep a close friendship.
During our call, Steve told me that he had played golf with Mike. I worked with Mike for many years. We were also friends outside work. In fact, I introduced Steve and Mike back in the days when Mike and I were part of a group of men who played basketball Tuesday nights and Sunday mornings. Sadly, with the demands of time, those youthful, athletic days have faded into the distant past. What’s left for us today, apparently, is golf.
In the course of being decades-long friends, I had attended Mike’s two weddings, came to know several of his siblings, met one of his daughters, but was never invited into his home. Likewise, I introduced Mike to a several people, and recall that he and his current wife briefly paid their respects after my dad passed. Mike and I made it a point to “break bread” at least twice each year, including a ritual year-end luncheon and a bottle of good wine at a fine downtown restaurant, which, unfortunately, did not survive the effects of the pandemic. One year it would be my treat, the next year, his. We otherwise periodically would talk on the phone and occasionally attend a music or sporting event of mutual interest.
Mike did not know Lee well, but he did know that she was sick because I talked about her illness the last time we met up for a meal. I’ve always assumed he knew Lee died because we had numerous common friends and acquaintances, such as Steve, who would have mentioned this fact to him. Therefore, it was not only a surprise to me but a disappointment when I did not hear from Mike for several months following her death. Even then, his outreach consisted of a text message. Perhaps Mike felt uncomfortable to raise the subject of Lee’s death with me, regardless, we haven’t communicated directly since.
When I think back, Lee’s death skewed or altered numerous relationships, for better and for worse. I suppose this is a natural and inevitable consequence when two people bring others into their circle of life, and then one of them dies.
For example, we used to socialize with Alan, one of Lee’s coworkers, and his wife, Mead. We spent time with them at our respective city and getaway homes. We felt like privileged insiders when, several years back, they happily announced their youngest son had landed a starring role in a popular television sitcom. At Alan’s request, I took the time to read a novel that he penned; from time to time I would invite Alan to play music with me and a few of my musician friends.
They were with Lee to the end but later sent regrets that they were unable to attend the celebration of her life that her brother and I had organized about this time last year. Then I ran into Alan and Mead this past Spring at a memorial service for another fallen coworker. I was happy to see them and, hoping to renew our friendship, suggested that we get together. They seemed to react positively to my suggestion. So, after a week or two I followed up with a message to Alan, seeking to nail down a date for our get-together. Alan responded that Mead had a work project that she first needed to complete, but I could expect to hear from them soon. I’m still waiting, but don’t expect that I will be hearing back from them any time soon. Our friendship might well turn out to be collateral damage.
On the other hand, I have become quite close to Lee’s friend, Amy. Amy and I get together about once a month. Sometimes her husband tags along. I always liked Amy, but she was Lee’s good friend. Today, Amy is my friend.
And I know that Lee would greatly enjoy learning that I have become good friends with her brother Paul, even though Paul and I tended to butt heads while she was alive. The source of our friction stemmed from the fact that, despite loving his sister, Paul sometimes took Lee for granted, which I knew hurt her feelings. Ironically, with Lee gone, the friction between us dissipated like thin smoke in the wind.
I have had to come to accept that Lee’s death affects other of my relationships (for better or worse). Some is on me, some falls on other people. The causes are neither simple nor even easily found. Maybe her death made others feel vulnerable to an uncomfortable degree. After all, death is a subject many people would prefer to avoid altogether. Perhaps I unwittingly had erected emotional walls to soften the blows of my own grief. My take-away is that such effects were probably inevitable and unavoidable. The one thing I discovered that I could control, namely, to accept any collateral damage to my relationships without feeling anger or resentment, took time, effort, and self-reflection.
When I spoke with Steve, he informed me that Mike had suggested that we three get together for a round of golf and a cocktail. Steve knows I do not play golf more than once or twice per year, while he and Mike are hardcore fans of the game. I know Steve plays at least two or three 18-hole rounds every week.
And I think it initially surprised Steve when I said, “sure, count me in for golf and drinks.” Nonetheless, he quickly agreed to arrange our round with Mike a couple weeks from now. As I say, I don’t care for golf much, but I expect to have a pleasant day renewing my friendship with Mike.