Michael and I were living in Florida, about to move to LA, when I got an email from a woman named Laurie Burrows Grad. She said she was chairing a Penn Women Author Event to commemorate 100 years of women at the University of Pennsylvania, where I attended the Annenberg School of Communications. She asked if I’d be willing to participate. I wrote back thanking her for thinking of me but explained that I was overwhelmed with my imminent move to Los Angeles. She wrote back that she lived in LA and that if I needed anything when I got there, I shouldn’t hesitate to call her. “And you’ll come for dinner and meet my husband Peter,” she added.
“How nice is that?” I said to Michael. “They don’t even know us.”
Laurie and I continued to email and we discovered we’d soon be neighbors, that the Beverly Hills duplex Michael and I had rented was only blocks away from her house. She offered yet again to have us over for dinner and we looked forward to it.
On our first night in our Beverly Hills rental, friendless and furniture-less, since our stuff was on a Mayflower van making its way across the country, Michael and I were surprised by a knock on the door. It was Laurie and Peter with shopping bags containing goodies to eat and drink and little battery-operated lights we could put on the floor by our air mattress until our lamps arrived.
“How nice is that?” I repeated to Michael.
Laurie was beautiful inside and out, I discovered, and Peter was hilarious with the ability to mock you in such an endearing way that you didn’t mind being mocked. (The first time he saw me, he nicknamed me “Bones.” Normally, when people joke that I’m skinny or scrawny or bony, it makes me mad, but Peter? I loved that he had a special name for me, just like he had special names for all his close pals, because he said it with such affection.) Both he and Laurie had huge hearts, and the word “generous” didn’t begin to describe them. (And I’m not just talking about the fact that they’d raised millions of dollars for the Alzheimer’s Association as a result of their “A Night at Sardi’s” benefits.) Oh and one more thing: they adored each other. You could see it in their eyes, in the way they treated each other, in the way they touched each other. When you were around Laurie and Peter, you were thrilled to be in their orbit.
And we were definitely in their orbit. Laurie and I would talk on the phone forever and then email right after. Michael, who doesn’t make friends easily or often, couldn’t get enough of Peter. While Laurie and I would be in her kitchen kibbitzing, he and Peter would be downstairs watching porn channels on TV and laughing like idiot boys waiting for their mothers to scold them. We’d go out for dinner. We’d go to the movies. We’d spend New Year’s Eves together and Oscar night and all the rest. And when they said, “We’re staying at a friend’s on the beach in Santa Barbara for the weekend. Want to come?” we not only said yes but became so enamored of Santa Barbara that we moved there.
I was emailing and texting with Laurie this past weekend while she and Peter were on their annual trip to Vail. She was telling me what a good time they were having and I was telling her the latest about CT, where Michael and I had bought a house in April to spend more time with my mother. I missed the Grads now that I was on the East Coast again, but we’d recently had lunch with them when they came to NYC and we pledged to spend more time together when we flew back to CA over the winter.
Then came a terrible phone call on Sunday morning: Peter had died.
Just like that. While I was sleeping. While I was completely in the dark.
I woke up assuming they were enjoying their last day in Vail and instead Laurie was dealing with the loss of her beloved Petey. How could this be true? How could someone who’d been so alive, so vital, be here one minute and gone the next? I couldn’t fathom it. With one big exception, I’d been remarkably lucky in the friend department when it came to good health. Yes, I had just turned Medicare age, but all my buddies were fine, a few aches, pains and prescription drugs aside.
Not Peter, apparently.
No one didn’t love Peter Grad. No one. He could walk into a room and charm even the crabbiest person. He could play a round a golf with Joe Schmo and the President of the United States and put them both at ease. He could elicit a laugh even on your gloomiest day and then order you a pizza or grill you a steak. (No one made eating as much fun as Peter. With him, food was entertainment.)
Laurie is bereft, naturally, and I feel helpless that I can’t take her pain away. I wish my mother didn’t have dementia so I could ask her what her friends did or said that most comforted her after my father died.
I only hope that the outpouring Laurie’s getting from people will ease her grief a little. She did have the good fortune to be married to the love of her life for a very long time. May the gift of that sustain her.