Sudden Passing

The Green Light / From Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby
Lullaby for Naima / Jenika Marion (Based on Naima by John Coltrane)

John Fraim

We moved to LA in September 1969 from Dayton, Ohio after getting married. I was starting my junior year at UCLA and my new wife had a teaching position with the LA school system. We found an apartment along Wilshire Boulevard near Westwood the first two years. Then, when I graduated and entered law school, we moved to a larger apartment in Westwood near the UCLA campus where I could walk to classes. 

It was around this time I first met Jake and Jennifer. Jake was attending UCLA Medical School and Jennifer had a booming career as an interior decorator. They had an apartment only a few blocks away from our apartment in Westwood. There was our first meeting that I wish I could recall the context of this first meeting. I know that was a friend of my sister who lived in LA. And Jake was one of my brother-in-law’s best friends. But the particulars of this meeting are still lost in the magnitude of the grand friendship that developed between us and them. My wife and Jennifer began doing everything together. I remember Jennifer coming over to our apartment and giving my wife advice on how to make things look better. Jennifer was a genius at design. She simply saw things with a perspective others could never see. 

The school years for Jake and me continued. We often saw Jake and Jennifer for dinner or at some reception or party around town. Often, at each other’s place. Jake and Jennifer became our best friends during our years in LA. The late 60s to the mid 70s. 

* * *

After graduating from law school, my wife talked about moving to the Bay Area. She had made some good friends in LA like Jennifer. But she still wanted to get out of LA for San Francisco. She talked me into the move and we moved to San Francisco in late 1974. 

But the bond between my wife and Jennifer never broke in these years. Jake and Jennifer came up a few times for visits and we went down to LA to see them.  Jennifer was even the Godmother for my first son, born in 1977.

The years flew by, as they always do. 

* * *

I now live in a part of Columbus, Ohio. I’ve lived here from 2001 to the present, minus the years from 2012 to 2015 when my present wife and I lived in Palm Desert. It was our attempt to test the waters of California for maybe moving back to the state. It wasn’t anything new. Something I’d been doing all my life. One of the attractions of the move was that it would be good to be near my mother who was 92 years old. She lived in the same home she has lived in for over 40 years. It was really a second home for me. Something stable when my home kept changing between California and Ohio. 

It was during our second year living in Palm Desert that we found out that my mother had terminal cancer. The breast cancer of many years in the past had made a scarry reappearance. Once this the diagnosis by my mother’s doctor, the next months were basically months of preparation. A death in the future was known about and was able to be planned for. Relatives and family members came to visit from all over the country. My wife and I took my mother out shopping until she simply didn’t have the strength anymore. 

The hospice people were called in as things progressed along the line her doctor had told us it would progress. My brother flew into Palm Desert the night she passed away. My niece flew down from the Bay Area this evening. All the inner core of our family surrounded her bed when she passed away.

My mother’s passing, when I reflect on it, seems like a very planned passing. It is always this way when the diagnosis is terminal cancer. Besides my mother, my wife’s closest friend passed away in this manner. There is the reassurance (if one can call it this) and dropping the illusion that life is unlimited and infinite. A definite end is placed on a life through this diagnosis of terminal cancer.

It is the knowledge that your lifespan has been measured out for you. There might be a certain reassurance in this fact if one is not overtaken by an overriding anxiety or fear of the future. This was my mother’s situation at the end of her life. It is certainly not the situation of everyone where death always plays possum somewhere in the future.

* * *

Sometime in 2015, a few years after my mother’s passing in 2013, we met my sister and Jennifer out in Palm Desert at our favorite restaurant. I had called in early and requested a special table. I had not seen Jennifer for many years, and I was really looking forward to seeing her.

It was a wonderful dinner with the four of us: my wife, my sister and Jennifer. I had a chance to catch up on old LA friends and remembrances during my early years in Los Angeles from 1970 to 1974 when I left for the Bay Area. Jennifer and I shared so many memories of those early years in Los Angeles. She and Jake were still married. It was such a great marriage. Their first marriage. It was my third marriage. She was such an inspiration to me in this way alone. There was always something to be learned from Jennifer relating to long-term stuff like this.

That was almost seven years ago as it is now January of 2022.

Last night, my sister emailed me that Jennifer had passed away. The news was devastating to both of us. Especially my sister who is best friends with Jennifer, who has known her for almost half a century. Evidently, died among girlfriends having dinner at a table on the outside area of the golfclub they were members of. 

Her death was the opposite of my mother’s long, somewhat planned exit from the world.  Hers was a sudden, unplanned one. Quick as a flash of lightning. 

We are back in Ohio now, having escaped California. Perhaps for the last time? Somewhat likely that we’ll relocate in Sonoma County in the not-too-distant future. It was a place I had lived in a loved and now my wife’s daughter and her fiancée lived in Sonoma County. I can see us moving out to Sonoma County in the near future.

The stunning suddenness about death of Jennifer is perhaps the main thing that occupies my mind in the past few days. Perhaps, in some way, this quick, sudden, passing, was meant to offer a type of lesson to all of us. About the suddenness of life and death. What better lesson could be offered than this lesson? What better way towards waking people up from their hypnotic sleep today? 

To accept the possibility that many of us are subject to the suddenness of death in what took the life of Jennifer. Showing us this suddenness of life so that we live better each second of life. 

But none of us knew much about this suddenness of life and death during those early years in Los Angeles when we were in our mid-20s and death such a hazy concept so far away. We were young and hopeful about the world in those years. Me finishing my undergraduate degree at UCLA and Jake completing UCLA Medical School. 

Such wonderful times to get to know Jake and Jennifer. She was the most fun person I knew. Always creative. Always witty and inventive. Always an honest and trustworthy friend that showed us what a real friend was all about.  

* * *

In those years when my current wife and I lived in the desert, I think it is fair to say that we had a love/hate relationship with the desert. It was so brutal to live in during the summer months and yet so gorgeously magnificent in the other months of the year. 

I think this way somewhat in thinking about the longer, planned death of my mother and the quick passing of my good friend Jennifer. It is a common response in society when hearing about a quick passing is to say, “I hope I go this way.” Yet, does one really mean this? Does anyone really want to exit life by a quick heart attack like Jennifer had? Perhaps at an older age but she was only in her early 70s.

But then, does one want to exit life through some quick decline experienced by my mother? Through the diagnosis of terminal cancer. Or, by a sudden heart attack like at her golf club. One, the planned ending of terminal cancer and the other a sudden ending. While the word “sudden” is the preferred way to exit life, no one wants to deal with that question of when in time does this “sudden” happen? 

All of this is only meant to capture a brief part of my old friend. More than anything, she represented the hope and spirit we had had when we first moved to Los Angeles from Dayton, Ohio. In this piece, I talk about two types of death and sudden deaths like. These are the most stunning deaths of all it seems to me. These are the deaths that truly show us the fragility of each of our lives. It is these sudden deaths of women in the early 70s rather than the slower, terminal, deaths of a woman like my mother in her early 90s, these earlier deaths are closest to me and much more of a concern. 

The night I read my sister’s email of ’s passing I couldn’t sleep but laid in bed thinking of those early years in Los Angeles. So much of it was attached to Jake and especially and my first wife. They became best of friends. Images of those years flashed through my mind. 

Yet this piece is really directed towards the philosophical ideas of planning and suddenness. Why plan if the world is one of the suddenness of death? Can one plan for the suddenness of life?

* * *

I talk to my sister out in LA today about getting the address of Jake’s place in LA where I can send a card. And, absolutely no flowers, says my sister. ’s daughter is adamantly against flowers. 

So, I write all of this up about this tonight. But it doesn’t really come close to capturing the incredible person that was. 

My sister tells me that there is some type of planned artwork in her golf club based around. This sounds like a good idea I email her. 

* * *

I think that one of the best memories of to the many who loved and knew Jennifer might simply be in the personal memories of each of these friends. Written and perhaps sent to a website that publishes various these memories of Jennifer in some collected form. This seems one way to honor and remember the life of my friend Jennifer. I think word memories might craft a statue to Jennifer that tells others about her. A statue of words dedicated to Jennifer. She certainly deserves one. 

But who knows what will happen?

A good friend has passed away from an event in our sudden world. My mother and my wife’s best friend passed away not from a sudden world but a planned-out world of terminal cancer. Two forms of leaving the world. One planned, the other non-planned. 

The non-planned visits from death through things like massive heart attacks (like it is suspected that Jennifer might have had but still pending the autopsy) are reality of sudden death causes for an increasing number of Americans today.

Perhaps memories of Jennifer will be written down by friends and family. Perhaps not, though, as I’m sure that many of those who knew her feel words are inadequate to communicate the experience of knowing Jennifer. This is how I feel so I’m just giving the bare context of her sudden passing.

Whether this happens or not – whether others write their memories of Jennifer, whether old photos and films of her are brought forth – all of this doesn’t really matter much to me. I have my own memories of Jennifer and nothing is going to change them. The memories of Jake and Jennifer are so tangled up with my early years of the late 60s and 70s of returning to California with all that hope and carefreeness of a new life and wife in a new place. Ohio to California. I was 21. It was good for me to return to my home city. There was such a naturalness to coming back to California. But Jake and Jennifer represented so much of the times for us. We saw them all the time for all sorts of dinners and parties and events. They were the face of LA in those years for us. Especially for my wife as she and Jennifer became best of friends. In ways, it seemed to me that Jennifer was like a sister to my wife. She didn’t have a relationship with her older sister. Maybe it was this way with Jennifer also? Perhaps my wife was that sister that she never had?

As I said, I have my own memories of Jennifer and nothing is going to change them.

* * *

In the end, I think that the big spectacle that seemed to emerge with Jennifer’s sudden passing, I somehow saw Jennifer as that one truly radiant person of the early 70s in LA. I guess I could say symbol for a period in my life. I think my former wife might say the same thing. It was the least likely person I thought would ever die. There was that inner glow of a radiant star in the lives of many. She certainly was in our first years married and first years in LA when we became best of friends with Jake and Jennifer. One of the most positive lights in my life. It is difficult to accept the suddenness of Jennifer’s death. But more than this, it was difficult for me to accept that Jennifer’s incredible star had suddenly been extinguished. 

Much love to Jennifer. You will be much missed by me. You live on in memory. A person in my life. A time in my life. A piece of my life.


(Jake and Jennifer are fictitious names based on the author’s true story of two close friends in Los Angeles of the early 70s)

2 thoughts on “Sudden Passing

  1. The older I get, the more friends and family I lose. All of us have to deal with this, and we all have different ways. You remember a dear mother who knew when her time was getting shorter here, and another person who came into your life and left you richer for knowing her,.dying quickly, unexpectedly..each different. The older I get John, I believe when our time here is up, we go. I have worried about a friend or family member who was so ill, and the other person their husband or wife who was fine, they were the one who died, and the ill person lived on. I think only God knows when that will happen, sudden or lingering, but think about the wonderful memories that will NEVER be taken away that we shared with them. There is no easy way to lose someone, but remember the story about the caterpillar who sees in front or turns his head and sees the sights at the side of his vision, then he dies, and all of a sudden .he turns into a butterfly and see the most amazing sights that he never knew existed!!! Remember each day is a gift from God, enjoy it ,cherish it, and also remember we touch other people’s lives while we are here, we are making memories…let;s make them count! Knowing you John, your friend cherished her friendship with you also!!! She knows how you feel!

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