I have been blessed with some exceptional friends in my life who would do anything I asked, and who knew I'd do the same for them. These are friendships of the soul -- the kind of friendships that last forever. Until just a couple of years ago, I had no idea how true this really was.
One of my oldest and dearest friends and I used to work in the same office building, and loved to take long walks at lunch time together. We also took several vacations together with our two spouses, and on one of these vacations in British Columbia my friend asked me if I'd do him a favor and promise him something. "Sure, John", I answered, "What do you want me to promise?"
"I want you to promise me that when I die, you won't grieve and mourn my death at the funeral, but will instead celebrate the joy and love in my life instead", John requested. He continued to tell me that so often people waste a perfectly good opportunity to laugh and enjoy one another's company because they are so upset that someone they love has died. "It's such a waste...", I recall him telling me, "... and such a shame to not make the best of a perfectly good chance to celebrate! I want singing and dancing and good food and music at my funeral... just like a great party!"
"I know what you're getting at, but I don't know if I can keep this promise", I replied, feeling great misgivings about committing myself to acting joyfully at the time of his death. I explained my hesitancy by saying that I'd never yet lost anyone I loved to death, and I didn't think I could guarantee I would be able to maintain a cheery attitude if John died. In fact, I was almost certain that I'd be quite upset by his death, and would probably be unable to smile, act happy, or celebrate when he died.
John repeated his request to me again with deepest sincerity, telling me that it would be enough simply to promise to him that I would do my best to celebrate when he died. He added that he also hoped I would please let all his friends and family know that he would rather have people be happy than sad when he died.
All this talk of his dying seemed needlessly upsetting and even a bit macabre to me, since John was only in his forties, and still quite healthy! I agreed to do my best to keep this promise, and didn't give this matter any further thought at all. Many years passed, we both had children, and our lives became so busy that we no longer had time for shared vacations or long lunchtime walks and talks together. Although we lived geographically close to one another, we only saw each other a couple of times each year.
One February afternoon in 1998, I was shopping at an art supply store with my younger daughter who was about five years old. She saw something she wanted to take home, and said, "Mommy! Can I have this?" Before I could even recite my standard response ("Maybe for your birthday or the next holiday"), I heard a little voice inside me say, "Why not?" I had no answer for that question, and felt such love in those words that I was surprised to find myself also saying, "Why not?"
"Hooray!" exclaimed my daughter, whooping and doing a spontaneous little dance for joy in the aisle of the store. I then realized I didn't even know how much this item cost -- there was no price tag on it! It was a small wooden reticulated pen in the shape of a snake, and it was quite beautiful. I asked my daughter to pick out another pretty pen like the one she was holding to give her sister, and told her that when we got home we'd have an unbirthday party. She was delighted, and when we picked up her sister after school, so was her sister! When he got home, my husband baked our unbirthday party cake, which I frosted and decorated with the girls. After dinner, around 8 PM, we sang the "Happy Unbirthday to You" song to each other and opened the presents I'd gotten for the girls that day. This spontaneous party was so festive, and so much fun! After all the partying, I took a bath to relax, and was quite surprised to see my husband bringing the phone in to me in the bathroom while I was still in the tub.
"Can I phone them back?", I remember asking him as he handed the phone over to me.
"I think you'd better take this call", my husband tersely replied.
I took the handset and said, "Hello?" -- and heard the woman's voice on the other end of the line say, "John's dead. I'm at the hospital right now, and he just died of a heart attack." I said, "You've got to be joking!" and she said, "I wish I was, but it's true. John just died at 8 PM this evening."
The minute I heard those words I went into grief and shock, and began to cry for days afterwards. Several months passed before I remembered the crazy promise that John had begged me to keep for him... and I began to realize how I'd actually managed to keep it. At the very moment that John was collapsing on the floor at one of his clients' offices of a heart attack, I had been singing the Happy Unbirthday song with my husband and daughters, and we'd been laughing at our silliness and enjoying cake and ice cream... just like John had asked me to do.
I now know that friends are forever, and the love we feel for one another knows no bounds... absolutely NO bounds at all.
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