“I want to make it to 90,” Pierre told me when he was 88. His parents had only lived to their 70s, but others in his family had lived longer.
“We should have a party,” I suggested. He liked that idea. I mean, if you’re going to live that long, you deserve a celebration. “You could have dancing girls.”
His eyes lit up. He liked that idea, too.
We never had a chance to discuss details. Pierre died last January, a short time after his 89th birthday.
We don’t always remember our friends on their birthdays. Sometimes we remember them on the day they died. November 22 is the day we remember President John F. Kennedy, not May 17, his birthday. September 11 is the day we remember those who were killed in the 2001 terrorist attacks. Those deaths were very public, so that’s understandable.
Sometimes we remember them on holidays because those are times we traditionally gather together and reminisce. My friend, Mary Ellen, was born on Christmas Eve, so that’s when I remember her.
But often we remember on their birthdays. Many of our holidays are someone’s birthday: Martin Luther King, Jr., George Washington, Abraham Lincoln.
And why not? Why shouldn’t we remember our friends on the anniversary of the day they came into this world? That’s the day that made our friendship possible.
It’s sad, though, especially the first year after they died. I’ve been thinking about Pierre all week, wondering if I could write about him today. After all, it took me almost a year to write about him at all.
But then I remembered that day at his house. I’d sent him a sinfully rich chocolate cheesecake for his birthday a few weeks earlier, so the topic came up easily (birthdays, not chocolate). He told me he was prepared for death whenever it came. His body had gone through a lot, and he wasn’t interested in staying alive just because medical science said it was possible.
He still saw beauty in little things: sitting in the warm sunshine on his front porch, watching the traffic speed up and down the Glen; a cozy cashmere sweater (or two); a funny story.
When he said he wanted to make it to 90, I knew it was a long-shot. He wasn’t going to have surgery just to get to that milestone, and that was his right. I also knew if he was told he wouldn’t make it, he’d probably just shrug that typically French, incredibly sexy shrug. I imagine he felt that making it to 89 was close enough. And it was, technically, his 90th year.
So I choose to remember Pierre today, on what would’ve been his 90th birthday, rather than later in the month, on the first anniversary of his death.
Maybe one of your friends died last year, too. And of course the first anniversary will be hard. But how about getting out your calendar and marking their birthday on it?
Decide to spend part of that day remembering them: do something you two used to do together, go someplace you both loved, dig out your photo album (remember those?) and wallow in good memories; call a mutual friend and swap stories.
It’s hard. I know it’s hard. But soon you won’t focus on how sad you are that they’re gone. Instead you’ll feel how very grateful you are that they were a part of your life.
Because that friendship – like all our friendships – made us who we are today.