Sometimes coincidences happen, just the way they’re supposed to.

Several weeks ago we learned that Virginia, a good friend’s mother, passed away unexpectedly.

We will drive five hours to attend her celebration of life at her daughter’s home in Bennington, Vermont. The gathering will be on a sunny hill next to an apple orchard.

More recently, I got a call from the husband of a dear friend, Holly, saying that she had died. A high school classmate of mine, Holly lived in Waterbury Center, Vermont. While we knew she was sick and possibly terminal, we did not expect her to leave us so soon.

Her funeral will be the day after Virginia’s, about 2 1/2 hours away from Bennington, in Waterbury. We will attend that as well.

One could view our impending two-day Vermont trip as a sad one, but as I grow older, I find events such as this often are heartwarming — and life-affirming.

We will talk, laugh and undoubtedly shed a tear or two, but just the “being together” will be good for the soul.

Virginia, who was in her 70s, was a mother, grandmother and mother-in-law who was sweet, resourceful and didn’t suffer fools lightly. She was the lifeblood of the family, always there for her children and their spouses, and her grandchildren.

So when she died, it was tough. A woman who was so present, and upon whom they could always count, became ill suddenly and then was gone. The family received cards and flowers and expressions of sympathy, which temporarily served to boost their spirits, but when all the activity died down, as it always does, the sting of loss was acute.

We will embrace Virginia’s family and each other, feeling blessed to be together and able to remember Virginia and her tenacity, resilience and upbeat nature.

The next day, we’ll drive north to Holly’s celebration of life.

Holly Sorensen Buck, left, and Amy Calder, have lunch in Waterville on Sept. 14. It was the last time Amy saw Holly before she died. Photo courtesy of Amy Calder

Holly was a good friend from high school. Ours was the first freshman class to enter the brand new Skowhegan Area High School building, and we graduated in 1974. Holly was smart and thoughtful, loved to ride horses and had an inimitable laugh.

We were part of a group that loved to listen to music and talk about politics, the Vietnam War, books and all things philosophical. We were in the drama club, ate school lunch together and made plans for weekend gatherings.

After graduation, we all went our separate ways. Holly was good about keeping in touch, especially over the last 20 years, always contacting me ahead of time if she was coming to Maine so we could get together. Often she would come with her husband, Rob. Sometimes she was alone, and a couple of times she brought her mother.

When she told me a year ago her cancer of 10 years prior had returned and the prognosis didn’t look good, she seemed to make even more of an effort to visit. I last saw her in September in Waterville, where we had lunch with Rob and another old friend, Kathy.

Holly, always practical, upbeat and selfless, wanted to see us, but her presence would turn out to be her last gift to us.

Rob has asked that I speak at her funeral, representing our high school years. I feel honored. Others also will talk, about different times in her life.

One thing Holly always tried to do was attend our class reunions, and our 45th will occur five days after her service. Though she had planned to be there, it was not to be.

Instead, we will be traveling to her turf this time, albeit to say goodbye.

Which brings me to a few thoughts about life, friends and death — an event none of us gets to evade. We all are going there; it’s just a matter of when.

When people we love leave this world, they are absent from us physically, but they do live on in our hearts.

Their leaving is our chance to imprint them there.

When someone to whom I was particularly close died many years ago at a young age and I was in the depths of grief, a wise older gentleman told me that it is not the length of time a person lives that matters most — it’s the quality of time we’ve spent with him.

A good reminder, I think, to live our lives richly, never taking a moment for granted.


Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 31 years. Her columns appear here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to

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