Rosemary and I became friends in college. We were both majoring in English and trudged through all those Elizabethan sonnets and Shakespeare tragedies together. We found out we were both dating the same premed student, but instead of becoming rivals or enemies, we became even better friends. Soon after college we both got married. (Neither to the premed student.) Rosemary got married first and I hosted a bridal shower for her. When my husband and I got engaged not long afterwards, Rosemary and her husband had us to dinner. During the next few years Rosemary had two girls and then a boy. So did I.
Three kids can keep you busy and I hadn’t seen Rosemary for a few months when one day I happened to glance at an old newspaper and there was her picture in the obituary section. When I was finally able to breathe, I frantically called her family to confirm.Yes, her sister let me know, Rosemary had gone to the hospital with a severe case of the flu and had died there. It was sudden. Her voice was clogged with grief. I called my husband, the news exploding from me. He tried to comfort me, but couldn’t. I went into the kitchen and laid my head on the counter and sobbed.
During the weeks that followed, I went about my chores listlessly and in confusion. How could my friend be gone? How could she not be washing her dishes and changing diapers and doing all those things we’d both been doing daily?
As the weeks went by and Rosemary’s death became one of those sad facts that I would need to deal with, something else seeped in. Fear. Because our lives had been so parallel, I became afraid that what had happened to Rosemary might happen to me as well. Would I end up leaving this life early too?
But I did not leave. I was allowed to stay. I did, however, stop more often to breathe. I began looking into my children’s faces with greater appreciation. I began really watching them and listening to them. I began to worry less about things that didn’t matter. Was the house as clean as it needed to be? Would someone see I was less than perfect? Who cared? I was here.
Yes, I lived despite two bouts with cancer. I lived through difficulties and a few tragedies, but I trudged ahead. I was blessed to actually be able to use my major in college and had the privilege of sharing my thoughts in magazines and books. We added one more daughter and I was able to watch my children grow, be at their performances, help at their schools, take them to church, and support them as they moved through their own life experiences. In what seemed like no time at all, my husband and I became empty nesters as our children went away to college and married and then had children of their own. Now we are growing old together and helping out with those grandkids.
But today I asked myself again, Why did Rosemary go, and why did I stay? It’s one of those mysteries I don’t anticipate solving while I’m here on earth. I wish I could talk to my friend again. If I could I’d probably say, “Rosemary, I hope your husband and children were eventually okay and able to live happy lives. I hope what they say about the other side is true and that it is glorious and that you have been happy as well. Most of all, my friend, I hope that you are okay and that you have found peace.”