March 12th would have been Julie's 41st birthday.
I can scarcely believe that my beautiful, ethereal, sarcastic-as-hell partner-in-crime would be in her 40s had she not finally succumbed to the violence that chemotherapy wreaked on her body when she was a mere baby of two.
It seems impossible to me that last night was the 14th year in a row that I have been treated to a birthday dinner by her lovely and gracious parents. For nearly a decade and a half we have celebrated her birthday together and spent the evening talking about the joys and the pain of our respective past years.
We dined nearly a month late this year: our date was delayed as the result of another death, another loss, another type of grim milestone the likes of which life always, no matter how otherwise joyous, ultimately forces its survivors to mark and endure.
We had a wonderful time. We marvelled at how time has flown. We laughed about how they just knew the boy who accompanied us for dinner in 1996 was NOT the right boy for me and how they figured I would marry the one who tagged along in 1999: I did, last night was the 11th time that Rob has joined us.
For the first time in 14 years we went to a new restaurant. For the previous 13 years we had dined at Julie's favorite spot but in recent years the place has moved and seemed to decline to the point where her mother declared last night that she just felt Julie was admonishing us from above, "Come on you guys, live a little, mix it up a bit!"
And so we did. We raised a glass to Henny and to Julie and joked about how they had probably met in Heaven by now and how Julie, who surely owned the place, was showing her the ropes. We laughed in all seriousness about how alike they were and how much they would have loved each other had they met here on earth.
And as always I marveled at the grace and gentle humor with which these two people - these people I could not love more if they were related to me by blood - have managed to endure their loss. This year, that grace is especially poignant to me as Rob and Graham and I struggle to deal with our own loss.
Because the thing is, no matter how much we may all say that grief and loss cannot be quantified, surely you can agree that the death of a bright and vibrant young woman in her 20s is infinitely more tragic and galling than the loss of a woman who toasted her seventh decade in good health surrounded by her loving family.
And so I feel just a little renewed this morning. I feel that perhaps a little bit of Julie's parents' grace has rubbed off on me and that perhaps our enduring friendship on earth really has inspired the beginning of a beautiful one in Heaven.