The first of our crowd died two weeks ago. Her name was Lydia. Back in college, she was absolutely gorgeous. All the guys were after her. I'm not gonna lie -- I was one of them. The partner she eventually settled on, when we were all in our mid-20s, was named Lizi. So that pretty much took care of that pursuit.

I used to call her Lovely Lydia Littlefield. "Littlefield" wasn't really her last name, though; I made it up. My friend Jack, a Jewish kid from Brooklyn, thought he was in the running for Lydia. No way, I said, she's out of your league. Far too good-looking, in that exquisite, prep-school-WASP kind of way. I told him her name was Lydia Littlefield. It just seemed to fit.

Lydia stopped by just four weeks ago. She'd been visiting her mom in Fairfield County. Her arrival at our house was typical Lydia-style. My wife and I were eating lunch in the kitchen on a Saturday afternoon, and we were startled by a knock-knock-knock on the slider door, right behind us. There was Lydia, face pressed up against the glass, that perfect nose all squished and contorted, Miss Piggy-style, eyes dancing impishly. Lydia never did things the conventional way.

Forever young, is the way I thought of her -- a sort of goofball, overgrown kid. When our older sons were little, Lydia would coach them on where to hide the tomatoes they hated so much, and how to burp on demand. Though she started out in publishing, and then for years worked as Lizi's business manager, she eventually decided she wanted to be a teacher "when she grew up" -- and she spent the last few years teaching eighth- grade social studies in Massachusetts, where she and Lizi had been living for the last 30 years. What I've heard is that she was the best teacher in the world. Wouldn't surprise me at all.

Very shortly after that last drop-by visit, she learned she had Stage IV metastatic cancer. The doctors were blown away; they had never seen an undetected cancer spread so fast. Lydia and Lizi chose palliative care; it was really their only option.

In the days after Lydia was diagnosed, a widespread network of friends came together to take care of her -- complete with an on-line community to keep everyone up-to-date. Very often, the postings referred to her as "our Lydia." I understood that -- but I kind of thought of her as "my Lydia." I'm sure a lot of people felt exactly the same way.

At the cemetery in Massachusetts, there were a lot of people crying. I wasn't one of them -- and here's the reason. You know how it's often said that after someone's gone, sometimes you have trouble picturing them? Well, I had no trouble picturing Lydia -- but I could absolutely, only picture her smiling and laughing. There was no way I could form a picture of her where she didn't have that loopy grin on her face. That's the way I always saw her. And thinking of her smiling made me smile.

Thinking of Lydia will always make me smile.

The Saturday after the Friday funeral I was doing my run on a crisp, sunshiny, October morning. I was listening to Springsteen ("Working on a Dream") on my iPod, looking forward to watching my son play football that afternoon at the Staples-McMahon game, and thinking, it doesn't get any better than this. It brought to mind a moment from the day before. As we were leaving the reception that followed the funeral, Gail, a friend from college, said, "Boy, if this doesn't make you appreciate every day you have, I don't know what will."

I've learned that lesson before, many times. It's always stayed with me, oh, about two or three days -- until the next "crisis" would arise. But now I have a face to put with that lesson -- Lydia's mischievous, smiling face -- so I'm hoping that all-important thought will stay with me longer this time. I think it will.

Westporter Hank Herman shares his Home Team column every other Friday in the Westport News.