4: Friends of Susan Society
4: Friends of Susan Society
Friends of Susan Society
Remember, you don’t need a certain number of friends, just a number of friends you can be certain of.
When Susan — my best friend of thirty years — died, three of her friends and I got together with her daughter to organize a memorial service in her honor. For a week, we turned our grief into lists — lists of things to do, food and whatnot to buy, people to call and e-mail.
The memorial turned out even better than we had hoped, complete with Susan’s favorite foods and a slide show that reflected all aspects of her life, from childhood to adulthood, from family to work. After the crowd departed, and her daughter went home, the four organizers sat down for a recap and chat.
Although we all knew Susan, and had met each other on several social occasions, none of us were close. Still reeling from the void in my life that Susan’s death had caused, I came up with a suggestion. “Let’s keep in touch. Maybe we can go for dinner in a couple of weeks. Sort of a Friends of Susan Society.” The three women nodded.
Work kept me busy during the week, keeping my mind off my grief. Evenings and weekends were much harder. Sunday mornings in particular, when Susan and I used to go out for breakfast and a walk, now stretched long and bleak. One of the women and I e-mailed a couple of times, but the other two were busy with family and travel. Several months passed before one of the busier women suggested meeting for dinner.
I arrived at the restaurant first and waited for the others, a little nervous. Slightly younger, and the only one still working, I was also much lower down on the educational pecking order than they had been, a substitute teacher rather than a principal or high-level school board position.
I felt as if I were back in grade school, trying to make friends with kids in my class I knew by sight but had never really talked to. I wiped my palms on my pants, took a deep breath, and pasted a smile on my face.
I needn’t have worried. We had a delightful evening and they never made me feel anything other than included. Many of our conversations began, “Remember when Susan did…?” Or, “Let me tell you a funny story about Susan.” Or, “I was thinking about Susan the other day and…” We traded stories about Susan’s inability to organize anything, her love of travel and hiking, her culinary experiments, the way you knew she was really angry when her voice got very soft. It was almost as if she were there with us, laughing in the background.
At the end of the evening, we promised to get together again, but one woman was off to Europe for two months, a second took care of her grandkids three days a week, a third had a retired husband and daughter with serious health issues.
By the time I got home the glow of the evening had dulled. Something felt off. For the next two days I thought about it — nice women, nice evening, nice conversation — what could be wrong? But I still couldn’t shake the feeling that all the “nice” in the world didn’t quite add up.
I needed to talk to someone, so I called a friend who knew about the evening.
“How did it go?” Mavis asked.
I tried to untangle my thoughts. “It was a really nice dinner. We traded Susan stories and talked a bit about what we were doing, but…” Still not sure, I hesitated.
“But it was still all about Susan,” I blurted out. “I wanted to make new friends, but these were… they were old friends, but they were Susan’s old friends, not mine. Apart from all having known Susan, we don’t really have any interests in common. I guess I was looking for an instant Susan clone to take over being my best friend. Dumb, I know.”
“Not dumb. It’s tough to lose a best friend. Wanting to turn people who knew her into your friends is simply a way of keeping her alive, if only by proxy.”
I sighed. “Too bad it doesn’t work.”
“What are you going to do?”
I took a moment to think. “I do need to make more friends, but it should be about me, not Susan. There’s a teacher I know slightly at work who seems very nice. Maybe it’s time to try yoga again. I’m sure I could meet a couple of people there.” I paused as more ideas came to my head. “And the women in my book club. There’s no reason we couldn’t do things outside book club nights. Like go to a movie or out for coffee.”
Mavis laughed. “Sounds like the Friends of Susan Society will need a new name — the Friends of Harriet Society. Just move slowly. Friendships take time and effort to build but…”
“…the right ones are worth the effort,” I completed. “Mavis?”
“Thanks for being my friend.”
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