They are work-related friends, people I met either working alongside them or in some other work-related capacity back in the day. These friendships created deep ties. We have been through so much together, with friendships waxing and waning over the years but always retaining a connection. We were young together once, we all worked hard to build, establish, and excel in our careers, and now we are all retired. Time marches on. It is heartwarming to see that we still connect and can pick up where we left off regardless of how much time has passed. It is fun to catch up on their lives and remember other friends (and enemies) from the same time period. OK, OK, especially the enemies.
A couple of days of girl talk is just what a doctor should have ordered for me. It cheered me right up. I love these women. They are hardcore, no lightweights here. They are women who lived their lives honestly, with great feeling, and on their own terms. They are all comfortable in their own skins and revel in their individual personalities. We each married young, but they are older than me by 8-20 years. So the men they married were pre-feminism husbands. Rest assured these women have either retrained their men or divorced them by now. It cracks me up to hear them talk about retraining tactics. They are a joyous bunch.
Yesterday, sitting by the pool, we toasted a fallen comrade, Maggie, who died in 2006. Oh how I wish she could have joined us. She was what one might refer to as a ton of bricks. I have never met a stronger personality. She was older than us and alternately intimidated us and encouraged us to be our best selves. She challenged our politics and our relationship choices at every turn. This is a woman who refused to wear glasses because she thought they were a sign of weakness. That is a direct quote, by the way. She was single her whole life, and her listing in the telephone book was under the name Brandy Alexander. If you were stupid enough to betray her I am quite sure she could tear your heart out with her teeth. We were all more than a little afraid of her.
For many years this group of women (including myself) would meet Maggie at a yearly bazaar held at an elegant Victorian mansion turned restaurant over the long Thanksgiving weekend. Let us call it a "Maggie mandated event." The event was meant to kick off the holiday buying season and was called the Twelve Shops of Christmas. We would eat a buffet lunch in the old carriage house on the property, staying long and talking loud. She directed the flow of conversation and we all hung on her every word. Then we would go into the mansion and shop in the twelve rooms where various upscale businesses set up shop. It was fun. This annual event was often the only time I saw her.
In late August 2006, I received a call from another former co-worker and Maggie protégé, CA. CA breathlessly and apologetically informed me that Maggie had been sick, was now comatose, was in the hospital on a respirator, and her family had made the decision to "pull the plug" that very afternoon. CA has always been the one to inform us about former co-workers from that time period because she was the only one left at that particular workplace. Her kindness is legion. Unfortunately, she had only just realized she forgot to tell me when Maggie got sick. For a while Maggie had been conscious and many of the old gang had gone to the hospital to see her and say goodbye. Now she was not and the end was near. This would be my last chance to see her before she was gone. I was grateful to CA for taking the time to let me know.
Leaving work immediately, I drove up to the hospital. I walked into the Intensive Care Unit without anyone questioning why I was there and wandered from bed to bed until I found her. Her eyes were closed, and her chest rose and fell mechanically. From what I could tell, she was already gone. It did not seem like a spirit inhabited that body. I selfishly wondered why they had not turned off life support sooner. What a cruel joke to pretend she was still alive. She would have been angry for me to see her like that. It was WAY beyond glasses. In my mind I went on and on with my self-righteous indignation, as if I knew anything about anything. In fact, I do realize how hard these decisions are for family; nobody wants to make a life or death decision for a loved one. It takes great courage to do so, and such a decision requires a fearless nature and a clear conscience. Not everyone can summon those qualities in the face of death. It is just too hard. Maggie could have made that decision for any one of us, though. She was strong that way.