Above: The author's 1957 Commencement class photo. (Courtesy of the Weinberg Memorial Library, University of Scranton)
Recently, three members of my University of Scranton 1957 graduating class died, two of whom I knew well and regarded as good friends.
We had gone our separate ways after graduation but the memories of our interactions and my admiration for them had not dimmed over the succeeding decades, even with only occasional sightings and reports. Their obituaries bore out their exceptional lives of accomplishment and generosity.
Earlier this year, I decided, after several years of silence except for Christmas greetings, to reconnect with Patrick O’Brien, a dear friend of 60-plus years. I wrote him a long letter over a weekend and mailed it Monday morning.
On Wednesday, I received a call from his wife saying she had received the letter that day, and my friend had died on the previous Sunday after 10 days in the hospital suffering from pneumonia.
I wrote her a long letter describing key moments in our friendship over his lifetime, reflecting on how much that friendship had colored and in some instances changed my life.
When I reflect on these old friends, I can say both that I miss them, but also that I do not miss them—because I continue to experience their presence in my life: their goodness, their humanity, their humor, their faith, the joy and fulfillment that was mine through knowing them.
I came to Boston College 38 years ago, where I met Bill Neenan, S.J. We worked together for 11 years in academic administration and established a deep respect and friendship. When he retired as academic vice president, he presided in a house across from my office.
Twice a week, sometimes more, I would visit him and was always greeted with: “Come on in; have you heard the latest? or have I got a story to tell you!” He died suddenly a few years ago after a rich and fulfilling life, a life dedicated to finding God in everyone he encountered.
When I reflect on these old friends, I can say both that I miss them, but also that I do not miss them—because I continue to experience their presence in my life: their goodness, their humanity, their humor, their faith, the joy and fulfillment that was mine through knowing them. I imagine that others reading this reflection who are in later life have the same experience.
The Mass of Christian Burial reminds us: “Indeed for your faithful, Lord, life is changed not ended, and, when this earthly dwelling turns to dust, an eternal dwelling is made ready for them in heaven.” It remains my conviction that in death, friendship is changed not ended, and that when a good friend departs, he or she remains vibrant in the lives they touched in their earthly pilgrimage, continuing to enlighten and enrich those who live on. A true friendship transcends the grave, bridging the boundary between life and death.
ROBERT NEWTON is the special assistant to the president at Boston College. He previously served as the associate academic vice president. This essay was originally published in the Spring 2018 issue of C21 Resources, the magazine of the University's Church in the 21st Century Center.