I lost another very close friend this month. News of her passing was unexpected, shattering. Coming from her own cell phone from her sister, it had the galvanizing effect of bringing into Chuck Close-like focus the importance of friends and priorities in a life. It also rendered clearly how unknowable the time frame we have to live our lives is. Death has a tendency to grab you by the shirt and say, “Hey! Wake up! And yet, after the initial shock of loss wears off, even as we are still grieving, we tend to return to the quotidian regularity of abusing the precious minutes we’re given. Somehow the loss of my dear friend, Jennifer, allowed me to see those choices as mine in a way I haven’t before.
I want to celebrate my friend Jennifer in all her magnificence, and use her to illustrate for all of you that you have people around you who are similarly invested in your wellbeing, and for whom you should stop reading this blog and pick up the phone and call. I’d been thinking a lot of her. Weekly and even daily, in fact. I think we need to trust that when that happens, something is going on with that friend. Take action if you are thinking about them. As I tell my students when we are learning how to read plays, “There are no accidents. If something anomalous is happening in the play, pay closer attention to it. It’s there for a reason.” Somehow I didn’t understand that that is also true in life. Until this week, when I got it loud and clear.
Jennifer never missed a holiday. She bombarded me and undoubtedly all her close friends with Jacquie Lawson ecards.. They were animated with charming colorful animals, and unseen humans who painted easter eggs, in the latest iteration. You can’t see it here in the still, but the chicks’ and rabbits’ eyes blinked at you if you left it open on your desktop. After receiving many of these cards, I even opened my own account, but didn’t have the discipline of taking the time to remember my friends the way my dear friend Jennifer remembered me.
Easter was the last time I heard from Jennifer. I reached out to see if I could find a time to see her and her last email, “We’ll make it happen!” now has a poignancy that is palpable.
We spent a lot of time in gardens together, virtual, animated, and real. We talked about love and loss and reinvention. You see, she had lost the love of her life about 5 years before I lost mine. Her husband and mine were actors together, and were in Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh at the Huntington Hartford Theatre on Vine in Hollywood. It’s the show that brought us all out from New York, and, to begin, we all lived at the Magic Castle Hotel on Franklin Avenue in Hollywood. Jimmie and Harris would go to the theatre, and do the 3 hour saga each night. Then they’d come back and we’d watch the British cast of Nickolas Nickleby party out by the pool.
We stayed friends with Harris and Jennifer for years, meeting at our respective homes, celebrating most New Year’s Eves with them, raising a lot of glasses of Pellegrino and wishing in our dreams for the New Years. The years rolled by. Countless dinners together, my favorite being the night we went to a Japanese restaurant on Sunset near Laurel Canyon. Jimmie was wearing a beautiful new suit, and when they brought the soup course, without a spoon, of course, Jimmie asked for one and they said, “Just pick up the bowl and drink it that way,” showing him how he should drink his miso soup. Jimmie was still drinking martinis then, and had had one if not two before the soup arrived. He promptly lifted the bowl to his lips, and it cascaded all over the front of his suit. I looked toward the kitchen door, and caught the servers giggling behind their hands. Someone rushed over with a towel and a spoon. We all laughed a lot even that night after his suit had been baptised.
Jennifer had a dirty laugh. I loved that about her. She appreciated a good joke and later, after her husband Harris had died, we eventually still laughed about silly things. We did spontaneous trips to Descanso Gardens, or The Huntington. We’d walk for a while, then sit on a bench and talk about life. Shortly after Harris passed away in July of 2010, Jennifer revealed that she believed in the validity of the dream life as an outreach from our departed loved ones. She practiced fervently beckoning Harris to visit her in her dreams. On the rare occasion when I would have a really satisfying dream encounter with my darling departed husband, I would want to call her to hear the enthusiastic response to our encounter.
Jennifer had an enthusiastic response to just about everything. But she took care of her friends. For several years, Jimmie and I were invited to hers and Harris’ condo on New Year’s eve, where Harris would make amazing peppers and pasta, and regale us with stories. It was mutual. Their friends were devoted to them.
Jennifer was a leader in her field of Television. She boosted people up, especially through the Women in Film organization. I met her friend Margie when she introduced us after Margie took a job at USC. We had tea together at the Huntington one Christmas holiday break. She constantly forged supportive relationships with women in the industry, and pioneered the job she excelled at, live camera mixing for the in studio audience.
Jennifer was a master gardener, and ran the community garden near the North Hollywood High School for years. She nurtured the garden the way she nurtured all of us, and hers and Harris’ condo stoop always had lots of plantings by their front door as a way of welcoming friends and family to visit.
Her passing has been a reminder of the temporal brevity we all have on this planet. How we impact others by sharing our authentic selves. Today we’ll be gathering at the gardens to celebrate Jennifer and I’m looking forward to hearing others share their experiences of her magnificence. And I’ll hopefully see you in my dreams, Jennifer.
Now, pick up the phone and call those people in your lives who are important. As we head into the three day holiday weekend, can you find time to connect?