In memory of a dear friend from whom I learned

I begin the New Year without my dear old friend Charlotte. The adjectives are true: She was very dear to me for many years, and she was well over 90 when she left this earth.
When I moved to Dallas back in 1980, one of the first things I did was connect with the local unit of the National Federation of Press Women, which had been both my professional and friendship anchor in Illinois. And the first meeting I attended here was in Charlotte’s home. Yes, I have also made many friends in that group over these many years, but Charlotte was the first. And the first is often the best.
She lingered for a long time, but until very close to the very end, she remained the essence of herself. In truth, I worried more during those last weeks about her husband, who was the major caretaker even when hospice had been declared. He was long retired from teaching English to young women in the upper school at Hockaday; afterward, he organized a poetry group at the church he and Charlotte attended: Northaven United Methodist. It walks the walk when it talks about honoring diversity; this is the place that has given permanent welcome and space to Beth El Binah, our city’s religious haven for many LBGTQ Jews, when their congregation outgrew its former Oak Lawn home.
Yes, we have many differences, but we are very good friends who have learned from each other. Charlotte and Tom attended a Seder in my home; an ornament I gave them years ago now hangs this season in their home, despite the absence of the usual Christmas tree and no festivities, not even a trip to church. Charlotte’s worn body couldn’t last that long.
My friends and I differ in our beliefs, but respect and honor each other’s. I did not comment when Charlotte was cremated rather than buried; I had known for years that this was the end-of-life choice for both of them. She drew her last breath — which was the classic “death rattle” — at 5:10 a.m. one week before Christmas. By the time Tom had called and I arrived at their house, functionaries from the Neptune Society had already come, dressed Charlotte in her favorite yellow suit (yes, she had asked for that, long beforehand) and taken her away. Tom says her ashes will be flown over an ocean, and that is another choice they made together for her remains — and later, for his: to mingle as quickly as possible with the natural world.
I have attended church with them on important occasions, the best being Charlotte’s 90th birthday. Since she was born on Valentine’s Day, she wore a red suit then instead of her favorite yellow one. And her wheelchair was festooned with red ribbons and balloons. My takeaway from that occasion, in addition to the wonderful buffet of sweets set up in the foyer after the service — everything made by women of the church from Charlotte’s own favorite recipes — was what the minister said when it was time for everyone to stand for a particular prayer: Not the usual “Please rise if you are able,” but the much gentler and more inclusive “Please rise — in body, or in spirit.” I like that better…
The next time I go to their church will be for Charlotte’s memorial service, which Tom immediately decided to postpone until January, so that nobody’s Christmas and New Year celebrations would be dampened by his loss. And then, I will rise myself — in body if able, but certainly in spirit — to eulogize my dear old friend. With a voice no longer of much good use, I will still talk/sing Debbie Friedman’s “Mishaberach,” after explaining how and why it came to be, and translating the bits of Hebrew it contains. I hope the “renewal of spirit” will come to all of us who knew and loved Charlotte, and will remain with us always.

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