Grieving A Lifelong Friendship.

Photo by Hakan Hu on

Angel and Angela. Angel and Angela. Angela.

I’m still in denial about my friend Angel’s death, the first stage of grief according to Kubler-Ross.  She recently passed away from cancer, her third bout.

We graduated from high school in 1976. And after that, every time I’d run into someone from the our Philadelphia neighborhood, they would always ask, “How’s Angel?” No matter how much time had passed. No matter that we grew older, married, had kids, divorced,  moved away. People always asked, “Have you talked to Angel?”

We went to school together since first grade. We become best friends in 5th grade. We bonded over stocking caps as we walked home from school on Hegerman Street. Angel’s was about 6 feet long with a tassel at the end. Mine just 3 feet with a fluffy white ball.  It was Angel who remembered about the stocking caps. Who will remember our shared stories now?

When I went over Angel’s for the first time, her house was being remodeled.  Living room furniture was moved around, the upstairs bathroom and Angel’s room torn apart. Angel wanted me to sleep over but her Mother said, “No. It’s not a good time.”

Later, whenever I did sleep over, I was sandwiched between Angel and her sister, Connie, who was just a year older.  Irish twins. Connie always said, “MysisterAngel” when talking about Angel.  I joked with Connie about clarifying Angel as if she had more than one sister and needed to distinguish between them.

AngelandAngela. MysisterAngel. Who are we when we lose someone? If we lose a child, are we still a parent? If we lose a parent, are we still a child? If we lose a friend, are we still a friend?

Many years ago, my friend, DeVivic, told me that whenever anyone comes into the family – a child, a spouse – the shape of the family changes. For example, 2 parents and one child form a triangle. A parent and two children are a square. As the shape changes, we jockey for our place in this new shape. The reverse is also true. When we lose someone we grasp at air to find something to hold on to, to grasp this new shape with one of the sides missing.

Who am I without Angel? Who is Connie without MysisterAngel?

We saw each other only a few times a year. But she was always there. Always there.

I remember Angel and I being largely inseparable as children.

We watched Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” together on the sofa at her house. We saw Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid together at the movies.

After spending the day together at school, we would hang out at one of our houses after school or talk on the phone every night. But not from 5:30-6:00. Angel’s Mom, Mrs. Patrick, told me not to call. That was sacred time in Angel’s house. Dinner time. No phone calls.

Angel’s mom was a huge influence on my life. And if Angel hadn’t been my friend, had I not spent so much time over there, my life would be different.

Her Mother had a collection of salt and pepper shakers in a cleverly designed shallow cabinet built into the wall. Whenever I see a cute salt and pepper shaker set, I always think of Angel’s mom’s collection.

Her mother had a set of gold flatware. I think she must have brought it out on special occasions. I had never seen gold flatware before, only sterling silver or silver-plate. The gold impressed me if only for its uniqueness. Many years later, when I was moving into a larger home, I found a set of gold flatware with a bamboo design at an antique shop. I immediately purchased it.

Mrs. Patrick was quirky fun. Each year for Christmas, she had a theme tree. Yes, a different tree each year. What a revelation! It fascinated me that someone would change the decor of their tree each year.

I had an Aunt who put red balls on her tree one year and blue balls the next. Our tree was different each year only by how it was randomly decorated.

Growing up, I watched the Patrick’s theme trees change. And when I got married, I began my own tradition of theme trees. Angels, Santas, Americana. Blue and Silver, Pink and Silver. Horses and trains and crystals.

Each year, a different tree. Angel knew this, would ask what my theme was and she understood where it came from.

This story started out about Angel. About missing my friend. About my disbelief that she is gone.

But it’s not just about Angel. It’s about her family, the family I have been a part of for 50 years. It’s about tradition and Christmas parties and her cousins that I’ve known almost their whole lives.

It’s a piece of my life that’s gone. The piece that shared all of these warm, wonderful memories. That shared the quirkiness and idiosyncrasies of both of our families.

It’s my friend who remembered her first time at my house. We were upstairs in my bedroom, when my mom yelled from the bottom of the stairs, “ANGEL, IT’S TIME TO GO HOOOMMME!”

It’s the friend who came over to watch Rowen and Martin’s Laugh-In at my house on Friday nights because she wasn’t allowed to watch it at her house.

Angel called us “Bookmark friends.” No matter how much time had passed since we last talked or saw each other, we picked up where we left off.

I’m struggling to understand that my bookmark friend isn’t there to finish the story with me. Unwilling to believe that I don’t have her to visit our childhood memories with, to remember the stocking hat story. To remind me of things I’d forgotten. The sweetest part of my childhood outside of my own family was Angel and her family.

Angel is a part of me. But Oh! How I miss her funny stories and her laughter. Her generous nature and unwavering support. It’s hard to believe we won’t grow old together. Her story is finished. It will live on in her son, in her family and in me. But there will be no new memories. And that’s the part that is so hard. She was always there. Just there.

And so I sit in denial, my mind refusing to believe the truth of it. It’s easy to not believe it because we didn’t see each other every day. But so many times over the past few weeks I’ve wanted to pick up the phone and call her. After our recent grade school reunion, I wanted to say, “Guess who was there! I haven’t seen her since graduation!”

Occasionally I slip into acceptance. Death is a part of life. But then I’ll look at a photo of her, so alive and well. And I shake my head. It can’t be true.

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