One of the best things about reaching middle age is having friends that I have known for many decades. These are the people that knew me when I was just a little kid wearing scuffed saddle oxfords, and have stayed in my life ever since. We understand exactly where each other came from, because we were there, too. Their parents were friends with our parents, and now, our kids are often friends with their kids. They may be “just friends,” but our relationships have lasted so long and our families are so connected that I think of them more as close, personal relatives.
I have very good friends that I have met in recent years, but they can’t share the stories of the past the way these long-term, family friends can. They can’t talk about the time my parents had the neighbors over for a backyard barbecue and it started to rain heavily. Rather than risk losing his precious pork steaks, my father simply picked up the grill and ran in our back door and down the basement steps with it, leaving a trail of curse words and black smoke behind him. Or the time when my husband and I had just moved to St. Louis and we all packed into my friend’s father’s van to head to Chicago for Thanksgiving at my parents house, never mind that it was a cargo van with no real seats in the back. We even took our friend’s dog, who was the only one who seemed comfortable sitting on the floor for the six-hour trip.
But one of the worst things about middle age is losing so many of those life-long, family friends. Tomorrow I’m going to a funeral for one of those family friends, one from my parent’s generation, who was the father of a very dear, life-long friend of mine. He was someone I’ve known my whole life, a very smart man who told funny stories, who could make just about anything in his shop, and who gave my husband a part-time accounting job on the side at a time when we desperately needed the extra money. He was a part of my past, and my family’s past, but now, like so many others, he is gone, and my heart aches for his grieving family.
I do know that as I age, everyone else in my life is aging as well. I mourned when my beloved grandparents and great aunts and uncles grew old and died, and now we are losing my parents’ generation too, one by one. Between my husband and I, we have only one parent left. I understand that this is just the natural progression of life, and that my generation’s turn will come soon enough. But I’m not going to lie; sometimes it makes very very, very sad.
It’s not that I want to live in the past, or am yearning for a “better time.” I’m not. It’s just that it’s hard to lose so many people who I loved or cared about, and that with each loss, there is one less person to “remember when,” one less person who shares my past, one less person who knows not only who I am now, but who I was then. It’s one more reminder that time is moving relentlessly forward, and that life is, and always has been, both precious and fragile.