Friendships between military wives can run the gamut. Some are formed chiefly because the children are the same age and the women live nearby. Others are deeper and less definable. The reasons two military spouses continue to seek each other out can be complex and intense and very personal. My friendship with “Jane” would fall into this category.
Jane passed away back in June 2012 and I just found out about it. You may be wondering how good a friend she really was if I didn’t know of her death. I can tell you she was a “give-the-shirt-off-her-back” kind of friend. She was funny and self-deprecating and often pessimistic, in an endearing “Eyore” sort of way. She was kind and deeply sensitive and much too hard on herself. And like “The Catcher In the Rye” narrator, Holden Caufield, she could spot a phony a mile away.
I met Jane while living in Mannheim, Germany, from 2003 to 2005. We lived in the same neighborhood and hit it off immediately. Jane had two young children, a little girl about my son Ryan’s age and a toddler boy.
We got together in the usual way of military spouses. We would meet at local parks and playgrounds with snacks in tow. We sometimes went to one of our houses for coffee and distracted conversation while the kids played loudly, (usually someone was crying.) Once in a rare while, we met at a favorite restaurant for lunch.
Jane was a big lady with an even bigger heart. It seemed to me that her larger size caused her to take on a slightly apologetic stance, especially around other military wives who she perceived to “have it all together.” I often reminded her that appearances can be deceiving and that everyone is dealing with something.
Although Jane was an excellent mother, she often seemed unfulfilled in the role. Prior to marriage, she had held various administrative positions in hospital settings, and I suspected, as smart and organized as she was, that she was good at her work. I recall us talking about our careers prior to starting families and we were both often wistful. Having children was what each of us wanted, make no mistake. But it was still tough some days doing the daily grind, particularly in a foreign country without extended family members to pitch in. Maybe it sounds ungrateful or whiney of us—we had both waited longer than the average bear to have our kids—but it’s the truth.
I say these things because Jane was the kind of friend you didn’t have to pretend around.
When we moved to Williamsburg, Virginia, in summer of 2005, Jane and I had every intention of keeping in touch. We wrote emails back and forth and the occasional snail-mail card or letter. Once she sent me a lovely blue plate from Denmark—the country of her family’s origin and the place she loved to visit most of all.
After having my younger son Andrew in 2006, things understandably got busier. This is not an excuse, merely a fact of my life. I think this is about when Jane and I stopped communicating. I thought of her often but by then both our lives had changed to accommodate our new duty assignments and all the people and activities that entails.
A few years after that, we became Facebook “friends.” At some point, I recall seeing her postings and realizing she was sick. I didn’t realize how sick, exactly, but knew she had cancer.
I know I wrote a few Facebook messages to her but she was in an epic battle for her life and probably had neither the time nor the energy to catch me up on all that she was dealing with. I only wish I had made a greater effort to talk with her personally. I can’t imagine how scared and overwhelmed she must have been. But I know her loving husband was by her side, as well as her children and other family members and, of course, her friends.
Learning of Jane’s death (which I got wind of only recently) was a shock to me, although I think I must’ve known on some level. I’d assumed she had “un-friended” me on Facebook when her name dropped off. But cowardly me didn’t check. I didn’t call to see how she was doing and feeling. And in the back of my mind, I figured I’d catch up with her eventually. Yes, denial is more than a river in Egypt.
Perhaps my point with this story is that life is short and unpredictable and we never know what the Big Guy has in store for any of us. I knew all this intellectually but think that lesson really kicked me in the gut this past week. The friendship Jane and I shared—though brief—was the real deal and I will always regret not making more of an effort to maintain it. At the same time, I have learned that military friendships can be brightly burning flames for a while, but after one or both of the friends move, it’s difficult to maintain that intensity despite the best of intentions. I feel privileged to have known Jane during those Mannheim years, no matter the duration.
I hope Jane knows how sorry I am and how much I appreciated her friendship. I bet she’s having a ball “up there” and cracking everyone up with her dry humor. I hope when I get there, we can laugh again together.