One of my first friends has died. And because of the pandemic, Nathan’s burial was private—with his wife and children and grandchildren. So his family and his friends have missed the comforts of the usual mourning rituals.
At my home in Ohio, I followed posts about Nathan’s diagnosis of an aggressive lymphoma, his move from the hospital to hospice at home, his swift decline, and the last vigil his family held. And one morning I read that Nathan had died in the middle of the night.
That day my mind went back.
As children, Nathan and I had seen each other six days a week—at Yoder School on school days and at Sunday school on Sundays. When we could, we sat by each other at church and at school. And more than once we found ourselves in trouble for whispering . . . or worse. I never saw Nathan’s citizenship grade, but I had some explaining to do for my report cards. And when we learned that my family was going to move far, far away to Flint, Michigan, we fell into a mutual sorrow.
But we grew up. We each found spouses and established our own families. And through the decades we found occasion to see each other. Once when Steve and I were college-poor, brand-new parents, and living on cornbread and beans, Nathan and Mim shared our table when they traveled through Flint. Just a few years ago, we stayed at their house in Virginia. Photos of grandchildren were scattered all through their house.
I last saw Nathan at a funeral home, next to his father’s coffin. Nathan was a history professor and archivist and had written a book. His mind was as sharp as ever, but Parkinson’s disease had weakened him, so he sat on a chair. His hand trembled when he reached out to shake mine. But his eyes still held the same spark that I remembered from second grade at Yoder School. That’s what used to get me in trouble—his eyes signaling he had something compelling to say.
My last conversation with Nathan was by telephone. The publisher of 𝘠𝘰𝘥𝘦𝘳 𝘚𝘤𝘩𝘰𝘰𝘭 wanted me to clear a scene I had written about him in my memoir.
“Read it to me,” he said when I explained.
And after I read, he said, “That will be fine, Phyllis. That will be fine.”
I’ve often heard my parents talk about their friends dying. So far, this hasn’t happened much to me.
But now it has.