Some people, I think, are too kind, too gentle, for this world.
An old friend died a few days ago. Kate was only 60.
We first got to know each other during our newspaper days. A mutual friend recruited both of us to run with him. It was an act that earned him the enduring nickname “Coach.”
We were young then, most of us still single, with few serious obligations outside the job. We spent a lot of time together, doing swims and runs downtown after work and gathering for long trail runs on Saturday mornings. Afterward, we’d linger over bagels or biscuits, swapping stories and jokes, teasing each other, awash in the glow of easy friendship.
Kate lived with her sister Steph at the time. The two were close, part of a tightly knit quartet of sisters. Kate and Steph had been born within a year of each other. They were “Irish twins,” they each told me.
In an unguarded moment, Kate once let slip that she had been a prom queen in high school — and that Steph has been a prom princess.
The ribbing commenced at once.
From that day forward, Kate was known as “the Queen.”
And Steph “the Princess.”
Whenever Kate and I said our farewells, we hugged, then stepped back. While exchanged mock regal waves, we’d say, in unison, “Queen on. Queen up. Queen out.”
When we’d finished, Kate would smile at me and say, “You goof,” before driving away.
Kate and Steph put up with the joshing with remarkable grace. Maybe they knew the teasing was offered with nothing but respect and affection, because they were such decent and giving souls. Maybe they just had good senses of humor.
They were devoted to their widowed mother, whom we all dubbed “the Queen Mum.”
Their dad had died when the sisters were young — very young. He was, in both Kate’s and Steph’s telling, a doting father, and all four of his daughters were daddy’s girls.
His death marked all their lives.
With Kate, though, I think it left a wound that never quite healed. For all her easy laughter, her warm and gentle ways, there was a darkness — a sense of dread — that always hovered over her.
She told me once in those now long-gone days that she never could shake the feeling that something bad was going to occur. She believed, following her father’s death, that the worst thing that could happen was always the thing that would happen.
Not surprisingly, she was a worrier. She fretted about her mother. About her sisters. About her friends. About her cat.
All too often, about everyone but herself.
Several years ago, she came over for a visit. She told me Steph had been diagnosed with cancer.
We talked for a long time. Kate told me about all the doctor visits Steph, Steph’s husband and their children were enduring. Kate talked about how brave Steph was, how determined her sister was, how relentless her “Irish twin” was in battling the cancer.
She was doing her best to reassure herself.
Because we were old friends, I knew the thought that ran, without pause, through Kate’s head:
Oh, God, it’s going to happen again.
And there was nothing she could do about it.
In one of my last visits with Steph, she told me she that, though it would be tough, her husband and her children would soldier on without her. Steph was worried about Kate, though. They had been together for so long and through so much side-by-side that she worried how Kate would cope when the Irish twins were separated.
Kate died just a little more than two years after Steph did.
Doctors will tell you that people don’t die from broken hearts.
I know that’s not true.
My hope is that somewhere the “Irish twins” — the Queen and the Princess — are together again, laughing and smiling once more.
If Kate wants to worry about the loved ones she and Steph left behind, that’s OK. We’ll be fine, but it’s always nice to know someone cares.
She should know, though, that, while she was here, she made this world a better and certainly a kinder place — and that she is and will be missed.