I don't remember the precise time when we passed from acquaintances to friends, but I should. I didn't know at the time it was going to be one of those friendships that lasted for decades and would be so important to me. Had I known, I'd have marked it on my perpetual calendar and tried to find a Hallmark card or a bunch of flowers or even a pizza special enough to celebrate the day.
I met her at church. We were both on the Altar Guild but on different teams. At some point in time, we started talking and became good friends. For me, I considered her one of my very best friends and, as the wise know, those are the treasures we find in life when we open up to the possibilities of entering a relationship. It was a risk I have always been grateful I took and that she did too.
She had such an interesting life, one so different from mine. She had lived in places I'd dreamed of, and I always envied that. She definitely traveled in social circles well above mine, but somehow that didn't matter because we were friends. I took her into my world, she shared hers with me, and we were both comfortable with that.
It is said that a mark of a true friend is one with whom you can share anything and still keep the friendship intact. We disagreed about some things (she loved talk radio and I listened to nothing but classical, among other things). We could (and did) talk about almost anything (okay, we left out some things that would have simply been TMI -- too much information). We laughed a lot which is always a good thing. She could be serious, but she also could be very funny, sometimes at the same time.
Of all the reasons I have to be grateful to her, probably the most important was her being there for me when I really needed her. She was one of the first people I called after my husband died, and she figuratively held my hand for weeks afterwards, helping me come out of the fog and make decisions I had to make.
When I needed a ride to a medical test, she was there to take me and sit in the waiting room until the procedure was done. Now there's nothing more boring than sitting in a waiting room, but she did it not once but several times. It was to her that I turned to when I was given the diagnosis of breast cancer, and she accompanied me on the initial visit to the surgeon to explore my options. She was my second set of ears and also my advisor. "Here's what I think but it is completely your decision," was that advice and it gave me the courage to do what needed to be done. She got up long before her normal rising time to take me to the hospital and wait until I was safely out of surgery, which involved a lot of sitting in a waiting room -- again. She picked me up the next day and brought me home. We checked in frequently and I knew she was there when I needed her. To me, that was the greatest sign of love a friend could give and she gave it wholeheartedly.
I've learned that one of the hardest things about growing older is the loss of people we considered rocks and even portions of our own support system. News of her passing came a shock but not a surprise. Knowing her medical problems, it was inevitable that one day something was going to happen, I just wasn't ready for it to happen quite so soon.
I'm grateful we had pizza together a week or so ago, and that I got her my usual Easter gift to her -- cheap chocolate-covered marshmallow Easter eggs, the cheaper the better. She loved the things and would ration herself so they would last for as long as possible. This year I gave her several dozen, telling her with a laugh that that should last her until next Easter. I hope she got to eat a lot of them.
Little things like that meant a lot to her, like the shoestring potatoes another friend gave her every year for her birthday. She looked forward to those and enjoyed them for as long as possible. I think to her, they were as important a gift as any extravagant one would be.
One thing she loved above all was her family. They were the center of her world. She could get exasperated, upset, hurt and puzzled by them but there was never a time when her love didn't encompass each and every one of them. Her family has been so exceedingly lucky to have had her with them for so many years.
I'm really going to miss JJ, as I called her. I am grateful for the memories but I wish we'd had time to make a few more. It appears her passing was quick and, hopefully, painless. That's a passing I think everyone wants but not everyone gets to have. I'm glad it was that way for her. She would have hated losing her independence. I'm glad she was spared that, for her sake and her family's.
Most of all, I'm going to miss that bright light she brought into my life. The world for me is a bit darker today. We didn't often say it, but there were times when the greatest thing either of us could say was "I love you."
Goodbye, my friend. You'll always be as close as my next heartbeat and my reminders of the many gifts you've given me. We'll meet again, and I hope there's pizza in heaven because we'll have a lot to catch up on. Rest in peace and rise in glory, JoJane.