DEATH REWRITES YOUR
22 February 2002
After Gilbert died,
someone told me that "death rewrites your address book," meaning that good
friends you thought would be there for you, just aren't. And people you hardly know become
very important as you make your journey through the grief process. It's something I've
discovered over and over again, with each traumatic death that touches my life.
I revisited one of those old entries in my address book today. We went to a play to see
a woman with whom I had once been very close. She's getting a bit long in the tooth now
and no longer able to sing, as she once did, but she always was a terrific actress and I
was happy to see that she's now doing drama instead of musicals, meaning that she's still
I remember so clearly the day she left my address book.
We had been friends for several years. When I worked on the writing of a theatre
history, which I knew would involve a lot of interviews of people I'd watched from afar
for many years, there were only three people I really wanted to meet. Gilbert was one, one
of the lead actors was the other, and this actress was the third. All three of them became
very good, close friends of mine. I lost all three the same year.
Obviously I lost Gilbert when he died.
The actor showed his true colors by choosing my period of grief to inflict what was the
most painful hurt that I'd ever experienced to date. It took me years to be able to put
that behind me, though when I saw him in a show a year or so ago, I still couldn't bring
myself to talk to him, and left the theatre in tears.
And then there was the actress.
I had such a crush on her before we met. She was the #2 soprano in the theatre company,
the blonde soprano usually getting the #1 slots. But the brunette was always my favorite.
we met, we clicked. We were going through similar periods of our lives, we were both
struggling with weight (she was a bit more successful in conquering her weight problems
than I), we talked frequently, met often for lunches. On her birthday one year I arranged
for my aunt, who was an artist, to paint a huge (18x24) portrait of her wearing my
favorite costume, which she'd worn when she was Rosalinda in Die Fledermaus. I had it
framed in a gold gilt frame and we hung it on the wall at the actor's house, where we
invited her to meet for a birthday dinner.
I don't know, really, how she felt about the painting, but I know it was hanging over
her piano when I went to visit her.
When her dog died, she was disconsolate. She loved that dog, and it hurt to see her in
such pain. Words seemed ineffective, but I tried to be supportive.
And then Gilbert died.
She and Gilbert had been good friends, and she knew how close he and I had become. I knew she was aware of how difficult his death was for me. Because of our long friendship and mutual support, I assumed that I could talk with her about how I was feeling and that she would understand.
We made arrangements for dinner and she let me talk at great length. I cried. Not only
was I, by this time, grieving the loss of Gilbert, but the loss of the actor and his
partner, who had been my best friend. I desperately needed her support.
Two days later I received a letter from her. I still remember what it said. "You
are too public with your grief. It makes me uncomfortable."
I never heard from her again. Not even when David, and later Paul died, though both deaths were
mentioned in a newsletter I know she (and the actor, for that matter) read.
Death rewrites your addressbook. There are people who are able to cope with someone's
grief, who are able to understand, to be there, to offer comfort or support. There are
others who are embarrassed by tears, embarrassed by deep pain, uncomfortable because they
don't know what to say or do. The problem with the embarrassment, the discomfort, is that
once the grief period passes, the former friend remembers how he/she wasn't able to help
and the embarrassment of having turned away keeps them away. I know this. I understand it
because I've been one of those people.
When someone turns away from you at the time when you are most needy, it changes your
feelings about that person. Even if you understand, you can't pick up and go back to
where you were, ever again. So I haven't seen the actress in 16 years. And, quite frankly,
I have no desire to see her socially again. It would be too awkward for both of us. But
that doesn't change how much I enjoyed her as a performer, and so we were glad to see her
on stage again. She's still a wonderful actress, though now in a supporting, not a leading role. But still strong, if older than I remember.
We didn't go backstage to congratulate her on her performance. She and I are different people
now, and our lives have moved in different directions. There is no point in trying to rekindle the friendship we once had. That makes me a little sad, but
you can't go home again, and death rewrote my address book long ago.