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Whiskey & Wine

Glasses raised, a pause fell over the table, a collective quiet, as four women waited for the words that would ring true. The wind rustled the leaves of the tree they sat below. "To life...l'chaim" said one, met again with a beat of silence, a gentle nod, a quiet acknowledgement, and the drinks moved to their lips. A glass of white wine, a glass of red, a whiskey & ginger and an Old Fashioned, bringing together four old friends who share a deep grief.

Many a four-top table have been filled with girlfriends enjoying a meal, catching up, making plans, getting out of the house, taking a break from a workday, gathering for a thousand and one different reasons. For this group - it was no different. They had all those reasons to gather, and indeed, did all of those things. But their shared experience of loss, which shadows all of their days, was for the time being, put on hold - the backburner - given a much needed time out.

The whiskey was in the hands of the two widows, the wine with those who are sadly, waiting in the wings due to terminal illnesses of their spouses. One would think the table would be filled with ladies of a more advanced age, but this group has reached these milestones a bit sooner than many. Seasoned surely, signs of the recent years' trials and tribulations evident in their eyes, their hair, their mannerisms, these women sat together on a gloriously bright, yet cool Saturday afternoon, sharing stories of life and living over good food and libation, and most importantly, feeling comfortable with being able to laugh.

In this setting, no one asked the same questions over and over. No one nodded in sympathy, either sincere or feigned - no furrowed brows of concern or earnest lamentations trying to understand the situation they were in. Sitting in the sunshine, wrapped in a freedom from judgement, from guilt, from furtive, awkward small they were allowed to chat about everything like they used to -- to discuss anything that didn't have to do with hospitals, and treatment, and illness, and funerals, and wills, and all of those things that come falling from the mouths of friends who reach out, sincerely trying to ease their burdens or comprehend their situations. Here they didn't have to rehash the latest maladies again, and again, each time having to stuff the emotions that resurface back into the coping compartments that let them move on.

Among them, there was an ease and comfort knowing that should the need arise, that at a moment's notice having to make a mad dash to the exit, there would be no shock or offense from the other parties. And knowing, most likely, they would not be going alone.

They talked about their children, about politics, and about odd things that would likely make others feel ill at ease, as these four women have a deeper, and one could argue, darker understanding of the phrase "there is humor in pathos." They savored the flavors of the comfort food before them, and had not a single hesitation in consuming the culinary delights with wanton abandon. Not only was the food too good to not enjoy, the idea of life being too short to worry or to deny oneself of earthly pleasures looms close to and often front and center for them all.

From the perspective of all the other guests at the restaurant, there was nothing unusual about that table. Four middle-aged women spending a few hours lingering over lunch is pretty ordinary, even in the age of Covid. And that was what made this lunch extraordinary for these women.

The other diners - they couldn't hear the tinges of sadness that fringed the laughter. They couldn't see the subtle shadow in the eyes that have seen so much sadness. They couldn't know the depth of the grief carried on the shoulders by each of them. And it is exactly this brand of anonymity that brought each woman at that table a much needed and exhilarating respite from their lives - even if just for a few moments.

"To life," they said, with another clink of the glass. "To life."

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