The father of one of my oldest and dearest friends died last week week. This particular mate and I go back a long way. Our grandparents knew each other, as did our parents. We hung out together when we were teenagers; he married my best mate from school and I married his. Our children are close. He’s probably the nearest thing I have to a brother.
Funerals are one of the times I’m vividly struck by how rich an experience getting older is when you are surrounded by good people. There’s simply no substitute for decades of friendship.
Mine is one of four families who have been a significant part of each other’s lives since we first became enmeshed at school, uni and church youth group. One of the women in this mob became my first Australian friend when I moved here as an unhappy, dislocated twelve year old in 1971. We negotiated puberty and menopause together. In between, we have gone through boyfriends and marriage, falling out and making up, babies and breast-feeding, teenagers and young adult offspring, depression, serious illness and trying to discover what our calling was as we emerged from early careers and years spent mainly looking after small children.
As well as going camping and having meals together, these days, we meet at funerals. Of the eight grown ups in this long-standing friendship group, two have lost both parents, two have both parents still alive; the rest of us have lost one.
At the funeral this week, the adult grandchildren give eulogies and carry the coffin out on their strong young shoulders and then we go back to the house for a cup of tea, tears and laughter and long hugs. I treasure this stuff. I love that we weep when each other’s parents die. That we spend time with each other’s kids when they are disgruntled with their own folks. That we have had periods of irritation and distance and yet, after all this time, as my youngest says, they’re our extended family.
Sometimes we have little fantasies about all moving in to an old age facility together when the time comes. Sometimes I wonder which of us will be the first to die, or succumb to dementia. Whatever the future holds, as I sit at the funeral, wedged in a pew between my husband and my other friends, watching my mate and his kids pay tribute to their dad and grandfather, it feels as though I can’t ask much else from life. This deep, long sharing of joy and pain is about as rich as it gets.