On Friday noon I sat at the table with three very good friends whom I hadn't seen in far too long. In the course of our friendship, we've spent a lot of time "at the table"...more specifically, the six-foot tables from which we played handbells. The three of them were my teachers in the art of handbell ringing, the ones who taught me everything I know about that very beautiful yet very challenging instrument. Our gathering that day was purely social, a chance to catch up on each other's life in general. And catch up we did, sitting down at noon and not getting up until almost four o'clock, letting the lunch crowd ebb and flow around us until the restaurant was deserted and the servers were starting to set up for dinner.
The next day I sat at the table with some other friends whom I hadn't seen in a while, and we chatted about life in general. But we also talked at length about one life in particular, that of a friend whom we had come to memorialize, a friend who had died much too suddenly, much too soon.
It was a planned surgery she was having, one which in the world of surgery is not minor but not normally considered life-threatening. The surgery was a success, we heard - her son sending the message on Facebook. Her family, assured that all was well, went home to sleep.
Yet somehow, sometime in the night, death came creeping into the room and stole her away.
Away from a husband who had counted on her presence beside him as they continued their retirement together. Away from the three young men she had raised with great love and devotion, away from little granddaughter who loved to watch Disney movies and sing-along with her Nana, away from the new baby not yet born who would never know this grandmother's love. Away from a dear friend fighting cancer who had relied on her strength in this great battle.
So much happens around the table, the place where we eat and drink, but also the place where we find communion with our family and our friends. Something I regret about my younger life is that we did not, as a family, spend much time around the table. My husband worked long and erratic hours in those days, and it simply wasn't practical to wait meals for him. Now I would like to have memories of those missed times at the table, would like to know that the three of us had spent hours in communion with one another sharing sustenance for our bodies but also our spirits. It isn't a coincidence that one of the most important sacraments in the Christian religion, one of the most momentous occasions in the life of Jesus Christ, involved sitting at the table with his disciples. In this commonplace activity, there is an element of the sacred, a sharing of life's elemental need which creates a bond between those who partake of it.
I want to think that lunches like the one on Friday will happen more often, that we four friends will make the effort to step out of our busy lives and sit down together at the table. Realistically, I know it probably won't happen and once again too much time will pass before we meet in that setting.
In the long days of grieving ahead of them, I hope that my friend's family will often sit at the table together, to share memories of her, to gather strength from one another, and to find their way into life without her.