It’s long been accepted wisdom in my family that late night phone calls can never be good news. So as I sat in the darkness of the American Alpine Club campgrounds in Fayetteville, West Virginia looking down the barrel of an 11pm phone call from my good friend Nick, I was worried. I picked up even as I willed the universe to be wrong about things just this once.
“Steve I have horrible news. Lauren is dead.”
Lauren Bradley, one of my closest friends from college, an ER nurse, a world traveler, an actor, a sister, a daughter, and a brilliant mind, had suddenly departed. Just like that. A few months ago she visited me in The City, took me to see True West, and forgave me for being a bastard. Now she’s gone.
Lauren would have been the first person to encourage me to finish my climbing trip first, lest my grief cause me to fall off a cliff. But now that I’m back, I owe it to my friend to say some words about her extraordinary life.
she was a towering comedic genius
Lauren Bradley is, first and foremost, one of the funniest human beings I will ever have met. As a young actor, she made me realize what an insult it is to describe a comedically-gifted woman as “like one of the guys”. Far from it, her sardonic wit plumbed depths that made reprobates of all genders stop and reconsider their own abilities. Even among her funniest peers, she was a towering comedic genius. I just can’t stress this enough. Lauren was funny on a level that most people can’t even fathom.
Lauren did incredible things. When confronted with the doldrums of the post-theatre-school life, she embraced her mobility and traveled the world. Her endeavors, from Australia to the Middle East to Alaska were fueled not by a trust fund, but by her own cunning. In fact, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that her recent thru-hike of the Chilkoot trail was one of the reasons I found about her death in the middle of the forest. Lauren was a posterchild for how much cool stuff you can do if you’re clever and hardworking.
She surrounded herself with lovely people, and held them in her orbit like a life-giving star.
Incredibly, all of Lauren’s exploits and dark humor never did anything to dull her kindness. Quite the opposite, she was fiercely protective of her friends, often taking on the role of ersatz mother when the occasion required it. She surrounded herself with lovely people, and held them in her orbit like a life-giving star. I’ll never forget, on one occasion when I really truly fucked up, pissed her off, and broke her trust, one of her very first concerns was how we could make it right. How we could be friends again. I failed in that moment, yet eventually she showed me the power and grace of forgiveness. I’ll never forget it.
The last time I had received a call like this was July of 2010. Then, it was Lauren calling me to tell me our dear mutual friend Christine Macken had died. Macken and Lauren were famous best friends in college. Inseparable sisters who would show up to parties and bring the house down. Wandering souls who, while maybe not happy, complimented each other to the extent that they functioned as a single entity.
When Macken died, Lauren carried her biggest torch. I honestly can’t imagine the the strength and the commitment necessary to carry on a memory like that. To grasp something that brings you more and more pain the harder you try to keep it from slipping away. But Lauren’s heart possessed a seemingly endless reservoir of love and sorrow for her friend, and through that sacrifice, she kept Macken’s memory alive in all of us.
Now both of them are gone, and with them thousands of shared memories and experiences. An entire human relationship had been wiped from the face of the earth, leaving only bewildered witnesses trying to understand how two vibrant, brilliant young women — two best friends — could both pass away before their times a decade apart.
I can’t acknowledge her strength without also admitting that it’s almost impossible for me to match it.
In Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (the closest thing I have to a spiritual text), author Douglas Adams describes invisible threads that tie us to our place of birth. They warp and distort as we travel further and further, but in the event our home is destroyed, they shatter, leaving us feeling uprooted. The untimely death of a dear friend can warp and distort things. But when two best friends die, it feels like something actually, tangibly leaves the world. Who is left now to tell their stories? Who remembers the quiet moments of intimacy they shared? Who will keep their torches burning the way Lauren did?
I can’t acknowledge her strength without also admitting that it’s almost impossible for me to match it. It’s hard. It’s incredibly scary to hold on the way she did. But I also know that she wouldn’t tolerate my self-pity for more than a moment. She was a woman of action, and I can’t imagine a more fitting tribute than taking action ourselves.
If you’re a member of our Salt Lake family, go to the celebration of her life at the Midvale Performing Arts Center on Sunday. Hug people. Tell lots of dirty jokes. Say “hi” for me.
Additionally, the Lauren Elyse Bradley Scholarship Fund at the John A. Moran Eye Center has been established to contribute to work providing eye care for children in developing countries — a passion of Lauren’s. I encourage you to donate by going here and saying that your donation is in her name in the comments.
So long, Lauren. Thank you for being you.