Marcy Barack Black





Children's Literature

Death of a Friend                                                 ThirdAge Perspectives

An essay by Marcy Barack

My best friend in high school was a year older than I. Terry always led the way through life. She was the first to graduate, to move away, to marry, to have children -- and the first to die.

It was the first time I faced the pain of losing someone my own age. Midlife affords a long view to two distant horizons. Terry's death let me see back to our beginnings, and forward to what awaits us all.

She was too young to die, only 51. We had been friends for nearly four decades, our lives linked most intimately in our teen and early adult years. As the cancer spread from her breast to her bones and brain, we revisited our past.


We mined the memories again and again. As each of us pulled out a favorite, we turned it this way and that, buffing it like a treasured Christmas ornament to be displayed on the tree.

Remember rising before dawn, walking to the lake to watch the sunrise, then hitching a ride home with the milkman? Recall the wild drives through the dark as our double dates rushed us home in time for curfew?

Terry remembered everything for me, and I wrote down the memories. As usual, she maintained her humor, dignity and courage in the face of life's biggest challenge. When she died, I lost a link to my youth.

Losing a Loved One

Some deaths we expect. We all know we will have to deal with losing a parent, sooner or later. Some deaths are too outrageous to contemplate, like losing a child.

But losing a peer, a friend, one of your age cohort -- as the sociologists would say -- is like no other loss. It strikes home in a way that grabs you in the gut.

The Face in the Mirror

When I go shopping and try on a dress and look in the mirror, I can almost see Terry peering over my shoulder. She nods in approval if the color is right, or makes a face if the cut is unflattering.

I am happy for her company. Then I recall she is not there. Only my reflection remains. And someday, mine will be the face seen, but not there. And while I look, the wrinkles deepen and the hair grays.

Confronting Mortality

We are intimately connected with our friends in ways other than the ties of blood. These bonds are constructed out of choice, carefully cultivated over time. Losing a longtime friend leaves so many empty spaces in the heart.

Standing before the mirror, we come face to face with our own mortality, maybe for the first time. Death is not a far off imagining of the hazy future. It is right there, looking over your shoulder in the mirror.

If it can happen to a friend, so young, so vital, so ... like you, it can happen to you. And it will. That's where the gut churns, and with a shudder, I put the dress aside.