Yesterday was the memorial service for my friend and colleague, Roxanne Fisher. She was my treadmill friend - up through spring we still went weekly to the gym to run on adjacent treadmills and talk - but also the first colleague to introduce herself as a friend, as a fellow mom, and as one whose first priority was her young children, not work.
Roxanne's research was on fern biology and cell development, and she had recently begun to be recognized as a leading researcher in an area of study which came into vogue over 10 years after her entry into it. I knew her at work, and I loved how she could love her job without becoming her job. I only met her after her initial diagnosis with breast cancer, like my good friend Sara, she had been diagnosed while her youngest child was both walking and breastfeeding (not usually simultaneously). Unlike Sara, who seems fearless about her good prognosis, Roxanne was always afraid of a recurrence, even before it happened, and in retrospect I believe that she feared it because she sensed its presence, watching her like eyes in the dark, even before it was diagnosed. She exercised, drank plenty of water from the latest safe-plastic or metal-lined water bottle, ate her vegetables, practiced yoga, all with the hope of an immune system boost to grant her however many years or days or minutes she could gain.
I did not have the luck to know Roxanne in her neighborhood circle. Yesterday at her memorial, the most affecting moment for me was when her neighborhood friend, Abby, spoke of the group of friends Roxanne shared through other nearby moms. Roxanne's gift to them, as to me, was the ability to be the glue of a group without needing to be the center of it. She was quiet, with a wry sense of humor and a gentle ear for whatever crazy story I brought to the treadmill that day. Roxanne was part of a parenting community I recognized as being very like what I had enjoyed in Hyde Park. Without her, Abby said "We are broken." And I could feel the brokenness in what Abby said, in her halting voice.
But Roxanne's glue was too strong for that. People who knew her from all her many circles spoke yesterday of how she had bonded people together, and for those two hours, we who had never met were bound together in the loss of her. I will see some of them daily, and some I may never see again. We all, colleagues, family, classmates, and neighbors, go forth with the faces of new friends in mind.
My colleagues Marie and Lisa arranged for each family to be able to go home with a fern yesterday, a remembrance of Roxanne's love. Some of us yesterday shared our fear that our ferns would die, just as Roxanne feared that she would, and we joked that Roxanne's friend Mary would have to take them into protective custody before long. But I learned from Roxanne that fearing death, one can still go forward, water bottle in hand, and keep running in the face of it. However long we get, with ferns or friends, we are whole, with our fears, joys, grief, and loves.