A good friend died seven years ago, in a car accident. It was late Summer, and I was seven months pregnant with my daughter, Ruby. I'd lost friends before, and braced myself as well as I could for the viewing and funeral, but I had no idea. We drove four hours, to a tiny little town in Ohio where she'd grown up. I'd been very close with her--she'd spent Thanksgiving with us that year--but I'd never met any of her family. We walked into the funeral home for her viewing, and were immediately ushered into the line that had formed, ending at Jolene's coffin. A woman walked up to me, smiled, took my hands, and introduced herself: Marla. She knew who I was; she could tell I was me because of the belly. I was Jolene's "pregnant friend." She hugged me and told me that she could understand why Jolene and I were friends; she said that she could tell by my eyes that I was a sweet person and had been good for Jolene. It was a wonderful and dear thing to say, but at first I was taken aback by how open this woman was being with me right away. She'd just lost her sister-in-law and was going out of her way to make me feel welcome, to make me feel better. And then, suddenly, I was at the front of the line, looking down at Jolene. And the gravity and finality and truth of everything made me woozy. I put my arms around my belly and cried. I'd lost a lot of friends in high school; accidents, and drugs, a suicide--but my grief had always been all about me. I was sad. I had lost this person. They had left me. But standing there, next to Jolene's amazingly sweet, honest, open family, it occurred to me that she'd been a daughter and a sister and an aunt. Her parents had lost their child, and that was something that I couldn't even begin to comprehend. For the first time in my life, I looked down at my dead friend and tried to put myself in her parent's place. I couldn't do it. I had no idea how it was even possible. I got dizzy and had to go sit down.
We met at the cemetery the next morning for the burial. It was bright and sunny, the service was short. Jolene was buried in the family plot; next to two of her little cousins. They were Marla's babies, the woman who had come up to me at the viewing and had been so sweet. She came up to me again after the services and gave me a big hug. She handed me a package. 'I didn't make this,' she said, 'But I wanted you to have it.' I opened it, and inside was a bright yellow, soft, crocheted baby blanket. I don't remember much about our subsequent trip home that day, but I do remember sitting in the car, clutching that blanket, and crying. Wondering how a woman who has already suffered so much loss could still be so kind, and sweet, and good.
Tony and I got new cell phones this week, and we switched providers. My old phone wasn't a smart phone, so I wound up having to enter all of my contacts into my new phone manually, one-by-one. Half-way through, I came to Jolene's name. I looked at my phone for a long time, wondering what to do. I didn't want to delete her name or information, but making a conscious decision to keep the non-working number of someone who isn't alive anymore stored in my phone struck me as being something a not-quite-sane person would do. In the end, I decided to keep it. Manually, I entered her name, her old phone number, and her old email address into my new phone. Because I want to carry it with me. Like the fluffy yellow blanket that Ruby still uses, I just want as many reminders of her and her family around as I can get.