Today I got news that someone I know died. My daughter and I are part of a small group that, three Saturdays a year, prepares a main meal for 70 to 100 people at a local soup kitchen. We usually meet for breakfast early in the morning and then head to the soup kitchen to prepare the meal. We are friends at those times. The leaders of this group are a retired couple whom we met at our church. Only three in the group attend church services regularly (not us). The couple, Gene and Fran, are an outgoing, committed, inspiring duo. The other members of our group include a doctor, a very entertaining loquacious woman, Lisa, an older woman, hard of hearing and very active, a middle age couple and their college age son and daughter – the husband, Sal, very funny, the wife, quieter, the son attended the same high school as my daughter and did crew with her – and Manny and Jane, the woman who just died. Jane is – was – a nurse. They have three grown children.
Jane’s cancer came back early last year, and we did not see either of them since then. Last time we went to the soup kitchen we all brought homemade meals for Jane and Manny since they were both tired from the hospital stays, the trips back and forth for therapy, and the general exhaustion from what they were facing. We in the group do not really see each other other than these three times a year. We do see Gene, Fran, and Kathy at church when we go. But, as strange as it may sound, we are all very close. The days we see each other, and share breakfast and the preparation and serving of the meals, are spent talking, sharing the stories of our lives, laughing, and hugging hellos and goodbyes.
Jane and Manny took a trip to Italy a couple of years ago. I’m from Italy and visit my family there often. Jane was so excited about the trip. They had been wanting to go for a long time and now wanted to make the most out of this expensive trip, so Jane asked me for ideas and advice. We talked via email a few times. One day I was reading the NYT and saw an article in the travel section about Italy. It included a lot of details that I had not thought of sharing with Jane but that I knew right away were great ideas. I sent it to her. The first time we saw each other after their trip, Jane was so relaxed and happy, and told me that that article had proven really useful. She told me about the trip and how it turned out to be all she was hoping for. Now I remember her smile, her big brown eyes, and her calm demeanor. Jane. Now gone, and all the people in her life missing her, heartbroken. It is strange how sometimes you feel close to people you don’t know well. I do not know much about her family. I learned some things by reading the obituary. But I knew she had a rich life. I know she mattered to a lot of people.