Today I attended the funeral of a friend. As with all difficult situations, when faced with them, I write. Had I had the opportunity (and the courage to actually read it aloud), this would have been her eulogy:
Most people don’t stay in touch with co-workers once they leave a job. Oh, we all have good intentions, but typically, when we leave a job, we leave the people we work with, too.
Not so with Kate.
There’s a saying that goes something like:
“People won’t remember what you said,
People won’t remember what you did,
But they will always remember how you made them feel.”
I was engaged to my husband when we were working together, and I remember a particular instance early on when she calmed me at work after having had a “run-in” with the music director at the church where we were to be married. I don’t remember what Kate said specifically (although I’m almost positive she had some choice words describing the music director), but I remember the feeling, how truly concerned and sympathetic she was. I felt calmed and validated and knew that we were bound to be friends.
She and I met as coworkers eighteen years ago, when we were known as “assessors,” which sounds far more impressive than it really was. Our work required travel to and from Flint, Michigan on a weekly basis, leaving Sunday afternoon and returning Thursdays. Our days were spent “assessing” and our evenings were spent eating out and spending a good deal of time at the hotel bar with all the other assessors, followed by cards or movies and always conversation in each other’s’ rooms. It was like college all over again.
Needless to say, we all got to know one another pretty quickly, and Kate and I immediately connected.
She was easy to connect with. She shared easily, and was a great listener. And she remembered everything.
The next years for me are a blur: marriage, work, one baby, and then another. But through it all we kept in touch. And she was always interested in what was going on with me, with my husband, and my kids.
She and I always joked that we both had this uncanny ability to follow each other’s trains of thought. We could have a conversation and jump from one idea to the next, and still manage to come back to the original thought, resolving them all. We were like a couple of stoners, without the drug. Invariably, one of us would say, “I’m with ya’…” when the other would start to digress. It always made sense to us, but I’m sure someone observing would have thought we were a little eccentric, or drunk. And sometimes they would have been right.
I was describing Kate to a couple of my friends the other day and described her as “my smart friend.” She was so smart, so well-read, educated and so willing to learn. I loved and admired that about her. I truly feel that being her friend made me a better person because she opened my eyes to books or ideas I might never have considered. But, regardless of her education and intelligence, she was never condescending. (I’m hoping she didn’t refer to me as her slow friend…)
The last time I saw her she received the news that she would need a third round of chemo. I felt as if I was intruding when the doctor and nurse came in the room, but she was unshaken. I was in awe at her strength at receiving the news: she did not cry, or get angry, just signed the paper and expressed her disappointment at not being able to go home. Even when she called her husband, she was calm and ready for the next step. But she was tired. We hugged good-bye and promises were made to reunite at City Theatre, where we had been season ticket holders together for the past six years or so.
I’ve thought about this visit a lot since I heard of her passing and I came to the realization that with Kate there never was any drama, and I believe this is what defined her as a friend. She didn’t get upset or angry if months went by without a phone call, she didn’t act different or begrudging when life’s circumstances like marriage or kids came into the picture, even if she was yearning for those things for herself. She catered to her “slow friends.”
It’s strange, because Kate and I didn’t see each other very often, but I will miss her. I will miss having her ear, and following her trains of thought, and watching her face light up sharing some story about her daughter. I will miss going to shows and having to actually read the program because she’s not there to share the background she already knew. I will miss my smart friend.