Eight women, ten years

I  spent Sunday, Remembrance Day, wrapped sadness and memories. My friend Susan's beloved partner of 35 years, G., died in hospice after a rapid decline. One weekend he was helping her with yardwork and the next, gone.

I thought of this photo, which includes her. It was taken a decade ago, at my birthday party in the garden of our old house in Toronto.

What if, on that warm July evening, Klotho, one of the Fates (looking, perhaps, like Kate Winslet in a wispy tunic), whom Greek mythology says spun the thread of life, leaned over each woman's shoulder, to whisper what was to come? But we couldn't know.

I looked at each woman, thinking of what life had sent since that evening.

I'm in the back row, fourth from the left, and still have that top. It hangs in my closet next to another sentimental item, my mother's wedding suit blouse from 1931. Her ecru silk is stitched with delicate tucks and closes with many tiny, covered buttons.

Mine, of dusty pink, has raw seams that deliberately ravel— a metaphor for our modern, less-buttoned-up time.

Married in the worst year of the Great Depression, Mom prized stability: hang on to your job, marry with a vow of "for better or worse", with "in sickness and in health" thrown in to ensure you knew exactly what the "for worse" could be. She set off after that wedding to live in the same town for the next 77 years.

Susan and Mom had met. Watching her in her swimsuit at our cottage, Mom said, "Such a beautiful figure! And she never married?" We have laughed about that ever since. Mom could barely imagine a woman who was happy with a union unrecognized by church or state.

The photo shows a carefree Girls' Night Out, yet change was just around the corner: the 2008 financial crisis would eliminate several of the guest's jobs by year's end. But in July, we were telling stories, drinking rosé, our mood blithe as the midnight breeze.

Scanning the photo, I recalled the lyrics of a song my parents played on their Victrola, the Guy Lombardo recording of "Enjoy Yourself":
"Enjoy yourself, it's later than you think
Enjoy yourself, while you're still in the pink
The years go by, as quickly as a wink
Enjoy yourself, enjoy yourself, it's later than you think."

In the intervening decade, each woman lost a parent or beloved family member; there has been one divorce, two marriages, one is now widowed, and numerous professional achievements, retirements, children's milestones—and we are all still here, so, survival.

The two silk blouses have hung side by side for this decade, yet I had never thought of their affinity until this week: how life, like silk, is at once durable and fragile.

Women will gather for Susan, now— other women, for not all guests that evening were her close friends too. "Why", one of the husbands asked me, "didn't you invite us?" "Because it's the women who get me through", I replied—even though I was fond of every partner, except the one of the divorce, but that's another story.

Now we will get her through, as best anyone can when a beloved friend is on this road.


LauraH said…
My sympathy goes out to your friend. This will be such a difficult painful time for her, she is lucky to have you in her life.
Madame Là-bas said…
Such a sudden loss must be traumatic! Your friend is fortunate to have created a network of strong and caring friends.
Laura J said…
Indeed life is both durable and fragile. Aging brings that any day any thing can happy sensation into stark focus. Thinking of Susan you and the group—aging not for the faint of heart
Lynn said…
I don't which is worse. The quick unexpected death or the long slow decline. YOur friend is indeed fortunate to have long term friends to help her through this crisis.
Susan B said…
Thinking of the Beatles tune, "With a little help from my friends..."

My condolences to your friend for her sudden loss. Both of my husband's parents who had been in good health in their late 70's succumbed quickly to their respective cancers just a few years apart. One of the reasons we travel now rather than waiting for retirement is "you just never know."
Beth said…
That's a beautiful picture, and I feel the happiness and warmth in it, even though you're describing the poignancy. Susan is indeed lucky to have you as a friend.
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