Letter to a Dying Friend

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My husband and I lost our decades-long, treasured friend Eddie in October, nearly two months after we first learned that he’d been hospitalized with a dire combination of heart, lung, and kidney failure. We’d spoken with him when he’d been moved to a care center, and he said then that he’d had enough—no more procedures, no more indignities. 

Mustering a bit of dark humor, Eddie asked if we knew Dr. Kevorkian (a pathologist who was a strong advocate of assisted suicide).

But he wasn’t as ready then as he’d thought. When he came home from the care center, he had some good time with his family. He told us he was spending most of the day out of bed, walking with a walker, and that his arms and legs were getting stronger. 

And then, after years of being a superb cook, he was sitting on a stool in the kitchen, chopping vegetables and directing his wife as she made dinner. We were thrilled when she called us with that report.

It brought back two other memories from years ago that I didn’t include in the letter below. We had organized a fund-raising service auction for the League of Women Voters, and Eddie had donated his culinary skills: a Chinese banquet for eight. 

Fortunately for us, a friend who was the highest bidder invited us to participate. The banquet was spectacular from start to finish. The dumplings—among the best I’ve had—were flawlessly lifted from our favorite chef’s woven wooden dumpling steamer—which he used frequently. (He’s the only person I’ve ever known who owned and often used a woven wooden dumpling steamer.)

The other story occurred during one of the years in which we were across-the-street neighbors. My husband had a small vegetable garden, and as we prepared to leave for a two-week vacation, he offered Eddie any of the bounty that was ready for eating.

When we returned, Eddie marveled about the superb Italian parsley. “It was great,” he said. ”I used it to make a zuppa.” My husband responded: “That was no Italian parsley. Those were my carrot tops—and now I can’t find the carrots!” Eddie had the grace to join us in fun when we repeated that story.

After writing the letter that follows, I emailed it to his wife so that she could read it to him, assuming then that he had little time left. But her visits were short due to Covid restrictions in the care center, and she had plenty of other things on her mind. 

When Eddie came home, I dropped off some food we’d made, and I put both the recipe and the letter in the bag. He told me he’d read it—twice. 

The vegetable chopping was his final rally. He died several days later. His wife expressed gratitude that she’d had him with her at home a few months longer.

The phone calls my husband and I both had with him and the knowledge that he’d read the letter have given us some measure of closure. 

But Eddie was a huge and dynamic presence in our lives, and he’ll remain there. We are left with that ubiquitous unreality about losing a dear one: we’ll never see him again.

When I informed our daughters of his death, our older daughter wrote to tell his wife that she and her husband intended to toast his memory that evening with extra strong martinis—our friend’s drink of choice. 

My husband did the same, in a glass frosted in advance, just as Eddie would have done. I, a non-drinker, took my first-ever sip. “Martini straight up, a whiff of vermouth, with a twist [of lemon].” Or sometimes an olive…

Eddie had asked me years ago–possibly in jest–if, when the time came, I would write his eulogy. I promised that I would.

There was no funeral due to Covid. As soon as it’s possible, his wife plans to arrange a cocktail party, his favorite form of entertaining, so that we can all gather and celebrate his life. In the meantime, I am keeping my promise.

August 4, 2020

Our dear, dear friend, longtime neighbor, and family member (remember: you invited us to join your family?)—

This crappy COVID thing is making it really hard not to be able to see you and maybe tell you some stories or hear your funny observations and valid complaints about your surroundings.

Though we’d much rather be with you, we’re thinking of all the times over the years that you’ve been the best neighbor and friend anyone could imagine. You may not even remember them all because you were just being you—so very generous. But we’ll never forget.

For example, when our “little one” was nine, she had what turned out to be severe appendicitis. B. was at work, but you were home from your school transportation business for the day. So you came over, lifted our thin but dead-weight child, and gently carried her to your car. And then you drove us to the doctor and stayed with me til B. arrived. 

We told her that story recently, and she was impressed to hear the role you’d played in, essentially, saving her life, as her appendix had ruptured.

Then there was the blizzard. We’d received word in the evening that my mother had been hospitalized with endocarditis. “I’ll drive you there,” you said without thinking twice. “I’m used to driving in bad weather.” 

I recall that drive vividly, as you explained calmly with each skid how to handle your van in such treacherous driving conditions. I remember being anxious about my mother (who recovered well), but not at all anxious about our driver, whose calmness and expertise made that potentially disastrous drive seem like the proverbial walk in the park.

There was our wonderful trip to Provence, where we rented that magnificent house. The fig trees out front lit your imagination and led to all sorts of fig-laden wonders that went well beyond desserts.

Such a happy time that was for us all, eating those fresh baguettes that you or B. brought back from town each morning, dining in a high-falutin’ restaurant where the wait-staff reluctantly took back B.’s too salty dish when your French-speaking friend who’d joined us persuaded them to taste the dish; until then they’d denied the possibility of an imperfection. And I still treasure the necklace that your wife, with a better eye for style than I, persuaded me to buy from a street vendor. She thought it was “me.” I had no such sense until I put it on.

We were so fortunate that for all those years the best food in town was right across the street from our house, where the warm fire in the fireplace lent just the right mood—and the prices couldn’t be beat! So many superb meals and happy evenings over so many years. And so many martinis! That was B.’s great good fortune that I was unable to share.

And then your super hospitality continued to spill out from your new and beautiful apartment. It was very hard to see you leave, but we are grateful that you’ve found such a delightful place that you so enjoy. 

You are what they call sui generis, dear friend—truly one of a kind. Your retelling of old jokes is fun even if we remember them, but the funniest moments are always the ones that emerge spontaneously from your puckish imagination.

We are so very grateful to have you in our lives, and we love you dearly.

Annie

36 thoughts on “Letter to a Dying Friend

  1. Thankyou for this beautiful remembrance, Annie. I’m very sorry for Eddie’s family’s and your loss. It sounds like he was a wonderful friend, and there are many great memories of times together with him. As you know, we’ve had a painful loss this year–the old, happy memories are very important.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh, George, is she gone? I knew she was failing, but this is such terribly sad news. My heart is with you and your family; she sounds like she was a wonderful young woman.
      Your kind message feels even more generous now. Thank you, my friend.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m very glad you have those rich memories, George. Again, I am so deeply saddened for your loss. You were so courageous and stoic in briefly hinting at what was going on, but I can’t imagine how hard that time was for her and for you all. Take good care of yourselves and each other.

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      1. I’m constantly amazed by the ability to feel we can get to know one another, care for one another, and support one another in this strange virtual world. You are my friend, George, and I grieve with you. Annie

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  3. I’m so sorry, Annie. Loss is never easy, and it sounds like Eddie was quite a man and an important presence in yours and your husband’s lives. I’m glad he was able to be at home in his final months. There’s something so dehumanising about thinking someone is spending their last moments in hospitals when they don’t want to be there being poked and prodded with no quality of life. You were grateful to have him in your lives, and he was lucky to have you both in his. Those memories are always there to be cherished.

    Sending that letter, the recipe and the food was such a thoughtful thing to do, and the letter was beautiful. Just perfect, Annie. And I think that cocktail party will be one to look forward to, so his life can be properly celebrated in a way he would have adored. It must be incredibly difficult right now with covid and it’s painfully sad to think funerals aren’t allowed and people can’t mourn as they should be able to.

    I’ll raise a glass to your sui generis friend. 🌹

    Sending my love,
    Caz xxxxx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks very much, Jill. The post I was hoping you’d read is the one from this am: “Joe Biden’s Magic.” That’s the one the Dionne column made me think of—I was working on it when I read your post.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I knew which one you wanted me to read, but when I saw the title of this one, I just had to come read it … and I’m glad I did! I started the other one and will finish it shortly … promise!

        Liked by 1 person

      1. We’re fine thank you Annie snd it’s good you got in touch so I could return the favour. Good luck as I too have been in touch with the happiness engineers without any joy.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for sharing this tender tribute to a dear friend. I am very sorry for your loss. Eddie sounds like he would have been a wonderful addition to anyone’s life, and what a blessing that he was in yours.

    Liked by 1 person

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