I wish I'd known in October that I'd never see you again. We did know you were in pain, but we didn't know why, and honestly - in the hustle and bustle of a big busy party - it was enough that you and Gerald were there. Smiling, hugging, quietly there. There were a lot of people we love in the room, but even that night I wished we could have found a quiet corner to sit in and catch up. I knew I could tell you anything, and I needed someone to be honest with - it was a hard weekend to keep secrets. I know you would have made it okay. I thought I had a picture of you that weekend with your big smile, and Gerald right behind you. I did have a picture, but it was fuzzy so I deleted it. I wish I hadn't.
You know how some people are always in your life and you think they always will be, even when you don't see them for years? You were one of those people. I don't remember life before the Bennetts, I suppose because you were already in my family's life before I was. My parents have such amazing friends, and even with our sizable families, we grew up loving those friends like our own aunties, uncles and cousins. My heart breaks for Karen, Carla, Pam and Chris - and for Gerald, yes, though I can't even really fathom his loss.
My favourite memories of you are from your house in Vernon - the best of places to vacation. I remember feeling so out of place - being the youngest in that sprawling brood of teens that our families created. I was the tween tag-along, tolerated, but mostly just. And you'd always be right there, keeping me busy, herding me through my years-long unrequited crush on your darling golden boy. I wished to be as beautiful as Karen, as big-hearted as Carla, as fun as Pam. My sisters had dibs on those friendships - those five older girls sure didn't need me butting in, but you made it okay to just be me - to sit with a book in the crook of a giant cherry tree and read and eat sun-warmed cherries until my stomach ached.
I remember things that probably weren't at all the way I remember, but that's okay. What's left are not snapshots so much as puzzle pieces - a fold down divan, your work worn hands, your warm broad smile. All that's left now for any of us are the memories, and so we cling to them, frayed and fuzzy and partial as they may be. Mostly your smile and your laugh - I have no illusions that yours was an easy life, yet when I think of you I think of you smiling and laughing.
We have no claim on missing you now - you have a partner of more than five decades who will have to learn how to go on without you. Your children, your grandchildren, your siblings - they will all need so much love to fill the void you're leaving in their lives. And still, we will miss you. I'll miss hearing about your adventures with mom and dad. I'll miss those increasingly rare occasions - the birthdays and anniversaries - when we get to see you, however hurried.
Thank you. Thank you for letting a gawky book lover sit in your cherry tree. Thank you for your wise words, your big smile, your strong laugh, and your model of faithful love.
You are missed.