It’s been three years since my beautiful friend Laura passed away. I think about her every single day. She was an extraordinary human being, inside and out.
News of her passing reached me two days after she died, through a Facebook message I received after playing organ at one of two Confirmation Masses. It sounds melodramatic, but it really floored me. How could this happen? While her youngest son was still a toddler, she received a shocking diagnosis and radical measures were taken. She and her family moved forward and she rarely spoke to me about it after the immediate crisis was averted. When she passed away, I had not spoken to her for some time and that sadness will linger with me. Our lives had taken the types of turns that cause people to fall out of touch. Her sons were involved in a lot of activities and we were both busy with work and our other activities. She wasn’t much of an emailer and keeping in touch on the telephone was a challenge. I had also been struggling with issues in my marriage that I was embarrassed to share because I never wanted her to be disappointed in me.
I knew Laura a little bit when I was a freshman and she was a junior, but it wasn’t until the next year that we became close friends. I don’t exactly remember a defining moment when we started hanging out, but it involved one of the many musical activities we were part of. Laura was like a big sister and I was so flattered that she wanted to be my friend because I was only a sophomore. We shared a love for piano, sappy 70s love songs, plays on words, and singing alto. She was a fantastic listener and her intelligence blew me away. When she was named salutatorian of her graduating class, I was in the auditorium while she practiced her speech. The teacher who was coaching her suggested that she remove the word “integral” from her speech and for some reason, the slightest bit of criticism of her speech aggravated me. How dare she tell Laura to take out the word “integral”! Who did this lady think she was?
Laura was my first friend who had a driver’s license and during my sophomore year, we put so many miles on her parents’ car driving by the homes of the various boys we had crushes on, developing theories of what the families inside might be doing. The radio was always on and we were lucky it actually had FM. Laura and I bonded over our love for cheesy love songs. Barbra Streisand, Frankie Valli, Barry Manilow – all kinds of schlock and sap. Laura had a thing for the song “He Ain’t Heavy; He’s My Brother” and we leapt for the joy when one of us figured out the intro to the Nilsson song “Without You” on the piano in the music room in high school. For my sixteenth birthday, Laura gave me a book called “Songs of the 70s” that contained some of our favorites. We were awestruck that the music for “I Just Want to Be Your Everything” by Andy Gibb was completely identical to the song on the radio. We also had a collection of choral pieces that we “forgot” to turn in at the end of the school year that I kept in a tote that she dubbed “The Bag O’Music”. Over the years when we would get together, I lugged the bag along and we sang for hours at the piano.
The day of her wake took place on my 39th birthday. A cluster of us joined the hundreds of people who waited in the line around the block for hours to pay our respects. Afterward, a dozen or so of us ended up at Chili’s, one of many places I hung out with Laura, and we talked and cried and laughed for hours. The funeral the next day is something that is still hard for me to think about. In the afternoon, I returned to the hotel and waited until other friends were finished working so we could get together. A sappy song entered my mind that I never thought much about.
Think of Laura but laugh don’t cry
I know she’d want it that way
When you think of Laura laugh don’t cry
I know she’d want it that way
A friend of a friend, a friend till the end
That’s the kind of girl she was
Taken away so young
Taken away without a warning
I quickly looked it up online and listened to it. And I listened to it probably a dozen times in a row.
Laura and I shared loads of memories over the course of a twenty-three year friendship and I can’t imagine putting them all in writing. So many of them are the mysterious glue of inside jokes and song lyrics and silliness that means little to anyone else. My loss is nothing compared to what her children, husband, sisters, and parents experienced. I will never forget her presence in my life and I feel it every time I hear one of those sappy love songs.
I know she’d want it that way.