This darkhaired girl called Ann was my new neighbour. I looked on in amazement and envy at how she handled her new born son…so at ease…staying in bed the whole day breastfeeding, resting , letting the world go by. I would find that she had gift for teaching small children, that mine would learn to use scissors sitting on her lap. In those early days of discovering each other we were beginning to weave the bond that would hold even though we would soon live in different cities , in different countries . It would hold for 36 years. It is still holding.
Writing about her now I want to tell of all she did, her accomplishments, all I so admired in her. She was one of those rare people who could turn her hand to anything; all the crafts and such a giver of gifts: a crochet blanket, bracelets she found in Tibet. I want to say how brave she was because she was. I have to tell of the pain life brought her… her second baby son dying at a day old…that was when Ann and I became sisters. That little one came to my home city by ambulance and died there and so it seemed he needed to undergo those rites with which we say goodbye there in my city. And because Ann was unwell and far, it fell to me to go with her husband and choose the little coffin and do what she would want. It was a gift from her to me to allow me to stand in her stead in that intimate place of love and loss.
There would be another baby boy…born early but well and beautiful. He was indeed beautiful, loving and kind and loved and welcomed by his older brother and us all but as time went on he had problems at school, not huge if one had perspective but he was a teenager and perspective and context were years away. And so I got a phonecall from a screaming woman it took me some time to identify as my friend…Nick had committed suicide at 16 years old. And then some days later we made that bond between us unbreakable. I had known since his pre teens of his unhappiness and fear ….in the years that followed I would have a hint every now and then that there was an anger and a dissonance that made me uneasy but I did not act. And I knew absolutely that I bore guilt. And that others did too and so I wrote to my friend to say this ..I knew , she knew, others knew…we were guilty of looking away, guilty. I expected the friendship to be broken but no, she had got there before me.
She mothered the son left to her wisely…no clinging …he was free to live his life, not required to assuage her loss. She was strong and brave and came to a place where she would speak of her lovely lost boy with joy. My dear Ann lived in Beijing for some years and helped in an orphanage for disabled children…just loving them, making birthday celebrations for them, saying goodbye to the lucky ones who were adopted…until a few months before she died she was still at it…teaching little ones, making little plans to help them overcome their difficulties, finding ways to reach them. My friend Ann…
And my friend Ann was there for me all the long years…in my happiness and in my losses and when I was afraid. What did I most appreciate about her? That she celebrated my joys and triumphs as if they were her own. She was the friend of my heart, the friend you are fortunate to find in your life. I miss her every day. She knew who I was…and she loved me.