Sunday, August 7, 2011

Four Years Later

Four years ago on August 8 my dear friend Elena was struck and killed by a truck while biking to work in Oakland. I have chosen, on the anniversary of her death, to think about everything that she has given me in the years since we lost her rather than how much I miss her.

Probably the biggest gift I have received from her since she left is my friendship with her parents, Candy and David, who are in their mid-80s. They are still quite active for elders; perceptive, funny, thoughtful, and wise. After Elena’s death, I quickly fell into the habit of calling them every week. Now my Friday doesn’t seem complete unless I have my phone call with Candy. She catches me up on what Elena’s friends and family are doing, reports on her health and the health of her husband, and always gives me a detailed weather report. She asks about my children and I fill her in on the latest. We have a “chit-chat” as Candy calls it; but it’s often more as sometimes I share my deeper concerns and worries, my successes, latest thoughts on life, and frustrations with dogmatic insurance adjusters and crazy appliance break-downs. All that stuff. Just life. Chit-chat and more. Sometimes David will get on the phone with me to tease me about something or to check up on me. Of course there is something about Candy and David that reminds me very much of their beautiful daughter; but they are also distinctly wonderful. I cherish our friendship. Thank you Elena for giving me this friendship with your parents.

Another gift Elena has given me since she left is the increased closeness I have developed with some of her friends who I didn’t know that well before our loss. Lately I have spent more time with one of her friends in particular who I only knew in passing when Elena was alive. I am looking forward to getting to know this woman better in the future and am grateful to have deepened that connection.

The year after Elena died, I started a scholarship fund in her name to provide financial assistance to college-bound high school students who speak Spanish as their first language. The scholarship has taken off with a life of its own and I no longer have much to do with it. Money is collected, a couple of “angels” give several thousand dollars, and each spring a scholarship board meets to cull through applications from students and select awardees. A group of Elena’s friends attends the award ceremony at Berkeley High School and meets the young people who have received scholarships and their families. The scholarships always go to such dynamic and motivated young people and their parents are always so proud of them and their accomplishment. Elena has given them the gift of college tuition and has given me the gift of witnessing the continuation of her work. I am deeply moved at the scholarship presentation every year.

There are so many other little things to cherish that Elena has given me since she left. As I think about it, my mind fills with images and bursts of recognition of gifts from Elena. I see the image of our mutual friend Linda on her wedding day wearing an antique lace tablecloth that she inherited from Elena over her wedding gown, and it was the perfect and most exquisite addition to her ensemble and contributed to the beautiful glow that surrounded Linda that evening. My son Sudi, Elena’s godson, has recently landed a gig DJing a radio show once a week on Berkeley Liberation Radio. When I think of how thrilled Elena would have been about this, I have to laugh. Elena gives me that laugh. And then there are the sunglasses. I took a pair of Elena’s sunglasses from her house. She had a bag of glasses, all different kinds, and her parents offered them to her friends during the week after Elena passed away. I took a pair of sunglasses. In the past, my sunglasses have not lasted long, but this pair is indestructible! I wear them every day. They are not my style in appearance, but they are really good sunglasses. I wear them every morning when I go for my early walk, and sometimes I think that I’m seeing the world through Elena’s eyes, continuing on this earth for both of us.

Now, four years out, I remain thankful to Elena for the gifts she continues to give me.

Note: Next Sunday I will take my first vacation from blogging in about five years. Be back on the 21st.

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