It is rare to fully value a friend while they are still alive. It seems to be a characteristic of our species, and possibly of other animals too, that while our companions are alive, we either take them for granted,
“George will do it; he always does.”
Or we idealize people we admire and don’t see that often,
“If I was as caring as Mary, I’d be happy, rich and popular.”
But Mary may not feel all that happy or successful. In fact, it may be that a deep sadness accompanies her for much of her days and haunts her dreams.
When a friend dies, as several of mine have in recent years, there’s a good chance that they soon vanish from daily conversations; and even slip from our thoughts for days on end. Without the customs of remembrance and appreciation that other cultures and older times left room for, our days can feel like lava flowing across the topography of routine activities. Unless such activities specifically reveal the absence of somebody that we used to share them with, the flow of remembrance may well pass us by.
But sometimes, sitting by ourselves in quiet moments, we remember an old friend and realize that no one else has shown up to replace what we shared together. Then we may realize that a part of us seems to have died along with them. And if too many old friends pass from our days, we may feel like we are standing at the gunnel of a ship with no one else next to us at the railing. When we remark that the dolphins breaching the bow wave seem to be having fun–before remembering that the gunnel is empty but for us—our eyes return to the empty sea not out of curiosity but because we don’t know where else to look.
If we happen to be a part-time poet, we may pick up a pen and write:
“My true friend has gone home
and left me here without them.”