Yesterday, Esther Bernhardt, a dear friend for at least twenty years, died. I was prepared for this death—her granddaughter had let me know that Esther had had a stroke and was not likely to survive it—but I have lived long enough to know that even when you are prepared, the death of someone you love fills you with grief. As indeed it should.
It amazes me that only a few weeks ago we met for lunch at Barnes & Noble and had the type of conversation that I love best. We talked about books, politics, movies, and family. With Esther, I could let my mind range free, and she was always interested, even if she wasn’t familiar with what I was talking about. And for me, that is quite a gift, one that I never take for granted.
Long-time readers might remember past posts about Esther. Born in 1937, she grew up in rural Maine, and I liked nothing better than to hear stories of her girlhood. Even though only twenty years separated us, it seemed to me that Esther grew up in a time that was far, far removed from my own. She remembered when many roads were not paved and what a treat it was to ride on a tarred road. She told of going to girl scout meetings and walking home alone for miles in the cold and the dark to find bean stew waiting for her. She laughed as she remembered her school bus that had long wooden seats on each side and windows that were only in the front.
“That bus was so dark,” Esther told me the last time we met. “I never could see who I was going to sit next to. I don’t know why that bothered me, but it did.”
“Because you were a child, and those things matter when you’re young. Sometimes even when you’re not young,” I said.
“Right,” she replied with a twinkle in her eyes. And, yes, Esther really did have a twinkle in her eyes. She was the kind of person who had a keen sense of humor and appreciated the ridiculous nature of everyday life. Whenever we got together, we always had a good laugh. Esther was just plain fun to be with.
Exactly a week ago today, Esther called and left a message. She had a new phone number and didn’t want me to think it was a telemarketer when I saw the unfamiliar number. I laughed when I heard that message because that’s exactly what I thought. Immediately, I called her back.
I knew her birthday was at the end of the month, and I also knew she loved my apple crisp.
“How about if I come over with an apple crisp to celebrate your birthday?” I asked.
“Sounds lovely,” she said, and we made a date for Monday, November 25.
Unfortunately, she is gone, and we won’t be able to celebrate together. But I will make an apple crisp in her honor and give thanks to all the wonderful times we shared.
I will also give thanks that Esther died exactly the way she wanted, at home, surrounded by her beloved family. She had a long life filled with both joy and pain, and when we last met, Esther told me, “I’ve had a good life.”
She certainly did.
Farewell, dear friend. How I will miss you. The road to your house was never long and sitting in your bright, cozy kitchen was one of the best places to be.