Two friends. Two distinctly different personalities. Both now gone. Gone way, way, way too soon.

The first was full of cuddles and comfort — the human equivalent of gingerbread and coffee. She warmed and invigorated. She sweetened a room. Her cheeks were sprinkled in cinnamon. Her voice was warm molasses. And when she laughed, your moods floated like cream in her wake.

The second was sandpaper and salt — all quick, gritty wit and billy goat gruff. She flashed lightning one minute and sunshine the next. She could be a tough nut to crack, but once you broke through, she loved you for life. And you were a better person for that love.

Both women — larger-than-life itself — now gone from this lifetime.

It’s always such a jarring, jagged feeling, knowing someone has been pulled from the world, leaving snagged roots and empty spaces — in this case, big, buxom empty expanses where bright patterned tunics and laughter once rang.

How can the world simply keep spinning? How do we just adjust to their absence?

And it seems like sacrilege to ask such questions as a mere friend. A friend. When we know others have been so much more enormously — monumentally –impacted by their loss. Children and parents. Spouses and siblings.

My bruises, though they feel deep, are nothing compared to the trauma in those lives. To the violent rifts and vast voids and crushing avalanches of raw emotion they know and feel.

I’ve started to write about my first friend half a dozen times since her death, but I kept stopping. It didn’t feel right.

And how could it?

Because it was all so wrong. So very, very wrong. My friends had families. Children. Grandchildren. Parents. They were loved. They were needed.

And somehow or other, some force or other chose not to take that into account.

And it infuriates me. And devastates me.

But that’s the nature of time, isn’t it? She’s a bitch. Or is Time a HE? Father Time, isn’t it? Of the infuriating, devastating, abusive variety.

Never asking permission. Doing with us as he will. Sketching lines, loosening skins, brittling bones and dry-rotting joints. And stealing friends. And former students. Time is a crook and a thief.

And he steals more and more from us as the years whiz past.

They say death happens in threes. But it seems in the past few months there have been many, many more than that. Friends have lost fathers. Mothers have lost sons. Families have lost matriarchs.

But I guess that’s the nature of the game. And as we get older, death increases exponentially. And none of us escapes the endgame. And eventually, if you’re the last one standing, then… you’re the last one standing.

And that’s hardly a good thing. I definitely don’t want to be the last one standing.

But I do want to stand a whole lot longer. My two friends who recently left this world — they weren’t a whole lot older than me.

I would appreciate it if Father Time would simply sling me more etched lines and loose skin and spare me a lot more life. Because my boys and my girls and my grandkids and my husband… we’ve got more we want to accomplish. We aren’t finished yet. Not by a long shot.

But then, neither were my friends and their families.

Every morning and night, I drive by one of their houses. There’s a light shining on the front porch, as if waiting for her return.

The primroses that pepper the front lawn of her house in the spring are nowhere to be found in this cold winter chill. The trellis, just visible in the backyard sits sparse and bleak in its grief.

But soon, nature will replenish herself. That’s simply her nature. Always resurrecting.

But the inhumanity of humanity is: we don’t. At least not in our original form. But if you’re a believer, there are options out there…

Some people believe in transmigration of souls — from one body to the next. Or others believe in a spirit realm where our loved ones may watch over us as angels. Still others believe in an afterlife where we will all meet up again in mansions and on streets made of gold.

All of these beliefs are the spiritual equivalent of cuddles and comfort amid the sandpaper and salt, the pain and the tears, of this life.

Cuddles and comfort. Sandpaper and Salt. That’s what life — and the afterlife — is made of.