A few days ago was my friend Audra's birthday. She died years ago and, though I'm sad she's gone, her light still shines. I met Audra not long after I met my friend Adam (and his twin Jason, and the other two brothers, their whole family...) and I was initially a little jealous that I would have to share my friend with her. That jealousy lasted less than a week. Once I got to know Audra I loved her (not romantically) and was glad to have her as another friend. Adam and Jason were a little crazy, very sociable and some of the best damned people I've known outside of my own family. I'm not sure why I hit it off with Adam and Jason but we did, and they're still my friends. I, however, am an introvert and don't do well in social situations. In my early twenties I was quite the bar fly and went out every weekend. I would never have done that if I hadn't known Adam and Jason. With them being so extroverted I could just sort of be there and meet new people without getting out of my comfort zone. I was like the fifth Beatle (Pete Best). Everyone knew there was another guy but could never quite remember the name. It worked brilliantly and through them I met some more good people. I also, mostly while drunk, learned how to be more social. We did some seriously crazy shit back in those days and I'm a little surprised I got through it without any serious injuries. Fire, heavy equipment, guns, booze... So many stories. Those stories are for another time.
However, I always was the "cautious thinker" in the group and didn't always speak my mind as it was hard to get a word in while Adam and Jason were talking. My meticulous way of doing things, my love of music and the artistic stuff didn't really fit into the group. I was fine with that because we had a lot of other things in common. Personality-wise, Audra was just like me. With her around there was always a way to take a break from the normal craziness. When the activities of the day got to a point where I would lose interest or simply not have any part in what was going on, Audra would be there to wake my brain up. We would talk about photography, she might ask me about woodworking (I was just starting that hobby), I would help her with her photography stuff when she was in art school. Most of all, Audra liked me exactly as I am. Warts and all.
Audra and Adam eventually married and I was honored to be their best man. The running joke was that I was the spare groom. I kept saying that there was going to be a marriage and if Adam passed out, I was going to step into his place. Audra was the kind of woman I want as my mate. She married the right guy though, Adam is a much better person than I. Houses were purchased, they adopted a child, life was good for everyone.
The dark side of this story is Audra had a form of cystic fibrosis and a heart problem. Her Mother had the same. We all knew Audra would probably never live long enough to be an old woman, but we never really talked about it. We just accepted it and moved on with life. Audra's condition worsened slowly over the years and got to the point where she was in the hospital more than she was at home. One spring Adam called me and said I should get to the hospital to see Audra. He didn't have to spell it out, I knew the end was near. I went to see her that day and she was sleeping when I arrived. I chatted with Adam and tried not to state the obvious. I just wanted to be there for him and hopefully take his mind off of things for a few minutes. Audra woke up briefly and we shared some small talk. As I was leaving she said something to me, her breath short, that I didn't understand. To this day I don't know what she said. I just waved, smiled and said something silly like "See ya around." It still haunts me to this day that I didn't understand her and may have seemed like an ass. I can recall that moment as if it happened yesterday.
Only a short time after I visited Audra in the hospital, Adam called me. I had just finished a service call on that sunny afternoon. He told me that Audra was gone. I said something along the lines of "So that time has come. We knew it was coming but it's still a shock." Adam asked me to be a pallbearer. He didn't have to ask. The funeral was in the same church in which Audra and Adam were married. The same church where Jason and Heidi were married. The same church where Greg and his first wife (rest in peace, Tiffany) were married. The same church where Adam and Jason's Father's funeral was held. The same church where Adam and Jason's Grandmother's funeral was held. I was at all of those events because they thought of me as part of their family. They're good people. At Audra's funeral I set my own feelings aside and resigned myself to supporting people. I wanted to be the rock on that day. Audra would have understood my intentions. After the funeral I rode with Jason and Heidi out to the little cemetery in the country where Audra would be buried. When it came time to pick up her casket and carry it to her grave I was in the lead spot. It was not a conscious decision, I just happened to take that spot. I cried a little as I was carrying my friend but did my job. During the burial I stayed in the background, keeping an eye on everyone. Greg's girlfriend (now wife) consoled me a couple of times and then it was back to the church for lunch.
After lunch, the family all met up and just talked about Audra. We shared stories, pictures (I brought along some of my favorite photos of Audra) and just hung out. The loss of Audra hadn't quite hit me as I was still in "watchman" mode. When I got home I cried like a baby and that was it. This year, as Audra's birthday came and went, I got to thinking about her. On my way home from work this morning little snippets of memories flooded in and I lost it. Audra was a good person, a good wife, a good Mother and she was my friend. If you had asked me long ago if her death would be such a loss to me I probably wouldn't have thought so. It didn't take long after she was gone to realize that a piece of me went with her.
The only time I've visited Audra's grave was the day we buried her. Each year since I've thought that I should go and put flowers on her grave, but I never do. This year I'll actually do it. It is going to hurt. I feel like an ass for not having gone in past years but after so many family deaths I don't handle cemeteries well. Audra, the woman who knew me as well as my own Mother knows me, would understand.