I’ve been looking at this photo of my friend Jane Hilton for days. It was taken the day I knew she was one of my soulmates. How lucky is that, that I happened to have a camera? It wasn’t the day we met. A couple of weeks had already gone by. We were playing music at a retirement home. A roomful of ancient Italian ladies – this was in Italy – were sitting in plastic chairs, bobbing along way behind the beat, smiling like mustachioed angels. I sang She Moved Through The Fair, an Irish song about a free-spirited girl who gets sick and dies before she can get married. And Jane played a set of Irish fiddle tunes, of which I wish I could remember more than The Geese in the Bog. We were at a summer festival, and being serious classical music students, we weren’t looking beyond the next tricky madrigral or early-morning language lesson, or I wasn’t. But then the Casa de Reposo gig came up, and they didn’t have a piano, so I sang the only thing I knew how to sing a cappella. There was a mutual surprise moment of “YOU like Irish music?” And then we were inseparable, for the rest of the summer, for the rest of her life.

That was sixteen years ago. I remember visiting Arizona for the first time the following summer, me freezing in San Francisco, her telling me gently that July was maybe not the best time to come to Tempe. She took me to a Clare Voyants show and hauled me on a hundred-degree hike in Red Rocks and every man she introduced me to was in love with her (also, no doubt, many of the women). Her great friend Billy Brett, who played in the band, came back to her place with us that weekend because he was too drunk to drive. He showed me the tiny photo of Jane he had glued to the neck of his mandolin. Which should have been a clue that no one could cross her path without loving her.

All those years of letters and emails and texts and visits and calls — until it physically hurt too much for her to talk — Jane was at my shoulder. I don’t make friends easily. It takes a lot for me to trust someone. But when I finally do, I give them my whole heart, and I expect a ridiculous, unrealistic volume of commitment in return. It’s a bad habit. It leads to heartbreak almost all the time. But it never did with Jane. I don’t know if she ever knew that, that there weren’t many like her, who had the whole unmasked quivering mass of my trust in their hands. I don’t know if she knew how rare that was, or how gently, ferociously, unwaveringly she held it.

I have lost loved ones before. But this is a new kind of loneliness.

She was the friend I could sit up all night and talk about God with, and spend all the next day playing music, and cooking, and reveling in nature. She spurred me to take chances as an artist, always telling me to listen to my gut and not to the louder voice that insisted I was a talentless toad and no one should ever have to hear me sing. She was fearless as a musician, and even though we had heart-to-hearts where she revealed that she secretly doubted her skills, she never let it show when it was time to shine, or to stand up there with other musicians and help them shine.

She took my by surprise at my wedding, and not only with the sweet, jaunty wedding march she wrote for Nadja and me. While I was getting dressed she handed me her bracelet to wear. It was my something borrowed, green and gold to match my dress. I started crying and blurted out “I’m so glad it’s you!” – which meant (for reasons that belong in another post) we were both aware that I didn’t have any relatives there that day. No one to help me get ready or walk me down the aisle. She knew she was my family.

This past January, after a glorious few days of playing music and hiking together over New Year’s, we saw Jane off in the parking lot at KBAQ in Phoenix on a rare cloudy day. She was wearing a yellow vintage skirt and high boots and her walk was full of that cheerful bounce she had when she was doing something she loved to do. She promised to come visit us in California as soon as she could.

But then the sickness descended again, and the texts full of furious, insistent hope that she would be well again turned into descriptions of rough nights of pain and nausea, and then she was just asking for all of our prayers. Every person. Every prayer.

People sing She Moved Through the Fair different ways, as with most folk songs. But the way I learned it, this is how it ends:

My love she passed by me
With her goods and her gear
And that was the last I ever saw of my dear.