Make, discuss memories at women’s group

I decided to write this after returning from the recent memorial service for an old friend — the latest loss in a string of old friends. One more to miss…
This is what age brings: joys accompanied by losses. Grandchildren and great-grandchildren; funerals, memorials and shivas. My women friends are fading fast.
I first joined a large “friendship group” during the ’60s, at the dawn of the women’s movement. I never burned a bra, but I did read the very first issue of Ms. magazine, in which Gloria Steinem wrote an article titled (something that every working woman then understood) What I Need Is a Wife! No, she wasn’t promoting lesbian relationships, simply fantasizing about having someone to do the child-raising and household chores while she was at her day job.
My first small group also formed during that time of personal upheaval. But after a few years, we had scattered to homes in four different states, so we decided to “reune” for a week in New Mexico, which was so much fun, we repeated it a year later in Colorado. But Marj and Jan fell victim to breast cancer, and Nan to Alzheimer’s, which leaves me holding all the memories.
The next group was here in Dallas, six of us meeting monthly for lunch and conversation. But then, Camille and Suzy both died of breast cancer; Shelley, who had a lung transplant, eventually succumbed to COPD; and I won’t name the fifth because she lives on, but with dementia. So again, I am left, holding all the memories.
That most recent memorial service honored the second of four women in my latest little group. You may have known both the deceased: both teachers, both Temple Emanu-El activists, both named Shirley. Now, only one other remains to share our memories, and I can’t escape this question: Which of us will eventually find herself alone with them?
I have no picture of my earliest women’s group, the one dedicated to discussing women’s issues. But I treasure the ones from the others: the four of us, a formidable bridge quartet, around a table at the Dushanbe Teahouse in Boulder; the six of us, who had forged our friendship within a larger group of men and women, lunching at an Olive Garden right here in town; the quartet who first went to Saturday morning services and then discussed books over lunch, having that special tea at the Dallas Arboretum. Of all of us in all three little groups, only two from the last are left. Again: Which of us will inherit all its memories, as I already have from the first two? This is a tontine without money or other welcome treasure; this is the “bet” that nobody would ever want to win.
Gloria Steinem and I were born in the same year. Of all the women in my three small friendship groups, only three were older than I; the others who have passed away were all younger. There are medical miracles yet to be hoped for, especially as concerns breast cancer. But there are already medical miracles that keep people alive for an amazing number of years as compared to the generations immediately before us — and yet, they cannot guarantee that these longer lives may be lived in full possession of one’s mental faculties. And so I wonder: Is simple “existence” really living? Is that what any of us really wants?
However, I’ve recently joined another women’s group. It meets monthly for lunch at a local La Madeleine, with no agendas, no planned trips, no other activities. Its membership runs the full gamut of ages and experiences, and we simply converse about our lives. I don’t yet know these women well, but I already like them all. Maybe I will come to love them as I did the others whom I’ve already lost. But then — who will be left, off in the future, as keeper of these new memories?

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