Perhaps the aspect of aging I find most difficult is losing dear friends–friends I had planning on spending time with into my dotage. In this post I’m paying homage to them, grateful for our close connection and for the invaluable lessons they gave me.
Diana died just a few months shy of her 60th birthday; Zoe was 63 and Ray was 69. While my friends didn’t have a national celebrity, they left a powerful legacy within their circles. They were all stars in their own right. They taught me a lot about how to live.
I met Diana when I lived in Key West. She was famous for her presence in Key West’s theatrical productions, landing coveted roles like Mrs. Robertson in “The Graduate,” but I got to know Diana through our shared membership on the board of the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union). Diana was as passionate about human rights as she was about acting. She immersed herself in current news of political injustices while volunteering in a woman’s prison and teaching ESL night classes.
A chance encounter with Diana in the grocery store or walking along the beach always left me feeling validated and understood. Diana listened with her heart. She taught me the value of deep listening. She was one of those rare people whose soul shone through when she talked and laughed. She was as funny as she was sensitive and caring.
My friendship with Ray goes back 35 years when I was a young wife and mother. My ex-husband and I were part of a close couples circle in a small college town in upstate New York. Ray had been blind since he was 19, but his loss of sight hadn’t embittered him. It seemed to only strengthen his resolve to get as much out of life as he possibly could. He earned a PhD in psychology, taught dream studies for which he gleaned a national reputation.
Ray was a natural athlete, enjoying swimming, hiking and biking (on a tandem bike where he pedaled in the back). He even learned to ski, wearing a sign that read, “Blind Skier.” What stays with me about Ray isn’t just his zest for life but his acute intellect. In our couples network Ray was the smartest, fastest thinker with a quick wit— not without its sexist references.
When I learned that Ray was dying from a combination of Lou Gehrig’s disease and cancer of the throat I screamed at the universe for giving a blind man such a horrible sentence. But Ray didn’t echo my anger. He accepted his death with grace.
He welcomed visits from friends and their grown children, listening carefully to their future plans, providing encouragement and advice. Ray greeted death with the benevolence of a Buddhist monk. Over and over his wife and old friends remarked, “Ray taught us how to die.”
Zoe and I met in a writing course when we both lived in Syracuse, NY. Zoe was a dancer and writer. We became friends and collaborators, leading women’s workshops with Goddess themes during the 1980’s and 1990’s, when women’s spirituality was in its hey day. Zoe was a diva, easily losing her cool, but she was also a good friend and a risk taker like no one I’ve known. When she decided to lead a women’s retreat in Crete, she went ahead full stream, never letting the many logistical challenges deter her.
In Zoe I witnessed the old adage, “If you can imagine it, you can realize it.” To this day whenever my courage falters, I summon my inner Zoe and quicken my resolve.
Thank you dear friends: Diana for your luminosity and deep caring; Ray for so much but most memorably for modeling how to die with grace: to Zoe for fearlessly approaching a desired outcome. I think of you all almost daily.
If you’d like more conversations with like-minded women, we have a Facebook page for you: WOW, Women’s Older Wisdom.