This week we buried my dear friend Charlie Schneider. His death was expected. Given the cocktail of ailments that plagued his final months, it was one of those passings that truly was a blessing.
Charlie’s funeral was the third that I learned of from a friend or colleague in as many days. The burial itself brought home the fact that I was saying my final goodbye to my friend of forty-five years. It occurred to me that when I entered my seventh decade, I also entered the age of final goodbyes. Charlie was the third one of my Colgate MIS colleagues who died within the past year.
That number three again. One often hears that death comes in threes, but of course it comes in much larger numbers, depending on the time span covered. Some consider three to be a mystical or sacred number—The Holy Trinity, for instance. Or a lucky one—three coffee beans in a glass of Sambuca Romana after dinner. Not one, not two; always three, if you want good luck. Third time’s the charm and all that. My mind fixated less on the number than on the finality of the parting.
For me the process of saying goodbye to Charlie included going through old photo albums. I was looking for pictures that I could post in the guestbook for his obituary on legacy.com. So sad to see his smile again, and to remember where the photos were taken. At my parents’ fiftieth anniversary party, for instance. My father and mother have been gone for 32 and 20 years respectively.
A photo of Charlie and me with my mother between us, taken one summer at the home where I grew up in Green Pond, was especially painful. Charlie had his summer tan and we were all smiling and happy. We sold the house after my mother died and it has since been remodeled. Green Pond has changed. Some of my summer friends still gather for lunch now and then, but not at the lake. Not anymore. The intersection of all that loss increased my grief geometrically.
I was forced to look at the faces in those pictures for quite awhile. They needed to be scanned into my computer, shading and resolution adjusted in Photoshop. I decided to crop myself out to focus on Charlie. Then they had to be put on a thumb drive and transferred to the computer with an Internet connection. Then uploaded to legacy.com. It sounds mechanical and robotic, but when I looked at the faces, it was anything but. Many tissues, red nose and puffy eyes later, I was finished.
At the luncheon after Charlie’s funeral, that final goodbye behind us, it was time to share memories of what made Charlie special. Some of those memories were similar, even though they came from different pockets in his life. We all knew about his love for trains, for example, reflected in his extensive model train collection. And most knew that he grew to love trains by watching them on the track behind his grandmother’s house. She took care of him while his mother was at work.
I thought about that on our drive home. A seldom-used freight track runs through the wooded area on the opposite side of the fairway behind our condominium. A train makes one trip some weekday mornings, going in and coming out. The engine rumbles so deeply that I hear it well before it comes into view. I call out: “Here comes the train!” and run to our porch to watch it go by.
My joyful routine makes my husband laugh. Even before Charlie died, I would say to Jagdish: “Now I understand why Charlie loves trains so much.” And so, despite the final goodbye having been said, I will remember my dear friend fondly whenever I hear a train roll by. I will smile and perhaps wipe away a tear. Then I’ll get back to whatever it is those of left behind do with the days we have left.