One of my school friends met her future husband as a sophomore in high school. He was a senior, serious about his future, and he drove a fast car.
Cindy, a fun-loving and beautiful blonde, was wary of becoming too involved too fast. But they stayed together even when he went away to college. They got married shortly after she graduated from the University of Texas.
Her husband graduated from medical school, just as he had planned, and she taught special education for a few years before they started their own family. They moved across small towns in the southeast as opportunities arose for him.
No one was surprised that Cindy and Peter were the high school sweethearts who made it. One of our mutual friends even correctly predicted in high school that Cindy would end up being a stay-at-home mom with six children.
Among our crowd of misfit, bright students, Cindy seemed to be the one who would follow a well-planned life path.
She and Peter lived in a spacious house on four acres in South Carolina, and took their kids to Disney and on camping trips. Cindy's Facebook posts reminded me of Erma Bombeck books I read as a child. She wrote about her life with a sense of humor and openness. Even though I grew up in a family of six children, she was the only peer I knew who had taken on the challenges of raising a family that size -- from teens to toddlers under the same roof.
She thrived managing that chaos.
Peter worked the demanding hours of an emergency room physician but spent his free time with his family.
He was on a school field trip with his son's middle school class when a blood clot traveled to his lungs. He died before he reached the hospital. He was 43.
I saw the news when Cindy posted it on Facebook and called her soon after. If it seemed unreal to us, this new reality was unimaginable to her.
I saw her a few months after her husband died, when her grief was still raw. There wasn't much I could say. I mostly just listened and offered hugs. I've prayed for her and her children often.
She and her children have spent the past year picking up the pieces and trying to figure how to refit them without Peter.
When The Cure, a rock band from an earlier era in my life, announced its tour schedule last year, I texted my high school friends, now scattered around the country. Using a concert as an excuse for a reunion, we all traveled to a city away from our homes this summer.
When I had asked Cindy if she wanted to go, she wasn't sure if she would be ready to leave her kids for a weekend. But her family told her they would take care of things, so she came. It was her first trip without them, without Peter.
It had been nearly a year and a half since Peter's death.
He had taken her to her first big concert. It had been The Cure in the summer of 1992, when we had graduated high school.
This summer, we danced to songs that took us back decades to a time when most of us couldn't have imagined what paths lay ahead. The one that seemed the most steady and certain took the most significant sideways turn.
We talked about how Peter had been as a teenager, and we laughed as she told us stories about how he was a father and husband. She's shared moments when she's felt his presence and heard his voice so clearly. She wears her wedding band.
She looks for moments of joy amid the grief.
Cindy is one of those people who sends a long, entertaining Christmas letter every year that I love reading. She addressed the life-changing loss near the end of last year's note.
"I have had to learn and grow in so many ways," she wrote, and quoted Ecclesiastes 7:3: "Sorrow is better than laughter; it may sadden your face, but it sharpens your understanding."
"And I know so much now," she wrote. "I really know."
She reflected on the 24 years she and Peter spent together.
"We had a great love story. It's a story because it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. And although his chapter has ended, ours will continue."