Saying Goodbye – The Story of a Friendship

This is going to be a tough one. We’ve just heard that my mother Ginny’s best friend Ann passed away yesterday. She was 90.

Ann and Ginny’s friendship began 65 years ago when their future husbands met at college. They raised their families in the same suburb for many years. When my dad died at age 50, Ann was the rock for mom. When mom moved from our house into a condominium, Ann and Uncle Ted graciously agreed to take “my” piano (an inheritance from my grandmother) and place it in their living room for more than ten years until I had a home of my own. Uncle Ted walked me down the aisle on my wedding day. Ann and Ginny talked just about every Wednesday for 19 years once mom moved away to Florida and they shared countless, endless laughs together. They shared life together.

Ginny is 88. The family had called my sister Hailey to share the news with mom. When she was told, she was very quiet. She asked about a service, but nothing at that point had been determined.

I checked in with Ginny that same afternoon. She did share that she had called another friend who would look for the obituary in the local paper and mail it to her, but she immediately shifted the conversation to asking if we were ready for our upcoming trip to Boston.

“We’re ready, but that’s not why I called Mom, how are you doing?” I reiterated.

“Well, I think the news is disturbing. So I started reading. It’s a good book about the 1930’s…”

It dawns on me that she doesn’t want to talk about it. It IS depressing, disturbing news.  My mother was basically raised as an only child because her “half” sister was 18 years old when Ginny was born. I know that she considered Ann her sister. And then there is the fact that she allows VERY few people into her world to begin with; Ann was at the top of the list. Her already small world was shrinking even more.

Hailey chose to check on her a day or two later to get a feel for her emotional state over lunch.

“I don’t have service plans yet, but when I get them, would you want to go to Minnesota?” she gently asked.

“That would just about kill me” was her exact reply and they are words that have let us in, if just for a moment, on the enormity of the loss she is facing.

Three Weeks Later

Hailey and I decide that we want to fly from Florida to Minnesota to attend the service. Representing mom feels like the right thing to do. And I try to hold onto everything related to that weekend so I can share it with her.

The service was held in an ancient, tiny stone chapel located right on the cemetery grounds. The program included “Reflections on Faith”, “Musings on Mom” and an original piano piece titled “Morning Lily” played by her grandson. And because they wanted to focus on the word “celebration”, they encouraged everyone in attendance to stand at the end and move to the aisle to dance. Yes, dance. That’s how Ann would have wanted it.

Parts of the day were tremendously moving. I have vivid images of standing at her grave while we each placed a flower on her already-lowered casket. I see the image of her husband standing in front of her, talking to her, sharing lyrics from a song. I do not see a dry eye around me.

And for me, there was that camaraderie spending time with my “second” family. I hadn’t seen some of them for at least 20 years, but their stories made me feel like I walked right through a screen into our collective past, watching and listening to everyone as they were 40-50 years ago.

“Did you know your mom took me out for ice cream on my birthday because mom was out of town?” asked one family member at the dinner we had that first evening.

“Did you know your mom once drove mom to the hospital because dad was out of town?” asked another.

“Did you know your mom threw me a wedding shower?”

I did not know. And honestly?  I don’t remember that Ginny. The Ginny memories I have are of someone who doesn’t cope well with doing favors or taking charge. In my mind, she would not be the person to be a second mom to someone and go out for a birthday ice cream. But I am grateful to hear memories from a different angle. It’s kind of cool, in fact. It makes me wonder about how deeply the loss of my dad changed her. How being alone for so many years turned her inward; less confident. But that thought can be examined at a later time.

I go to the second floor of the restaurant where we all met for lunch (where Ann and Uncle Ted went on a date) to watch a slideshow presentation of Ann and her family. It included photos from every phase of her life. When she was young, when she’s holding her babies, then photos of her four children holding their own. There were photos of grandchildren, cousins goofing around, posed shots with Ann and Uncle Ted, family beach vacations, holidays. Life. Love. I saw a few photos of my mom and dad from so long ago.

I realized that in a way, I was watching Ginny’s life too since there were so many overlaps and shared events and memories along the same timeline of life. That was a powerful thought. Ginny had lost a significant portion of her own self with the death of Ann. Maybe she was thinking of that when she had said being there “would just about kill her.”

Although there’s really no way that I can turn the loss around, I do want to share all these details with Ginny in a way that highlights how she was able to connect with and be a friend to this smart, kind and funny woman for sixty-five years. And maybe one day, in the privacy of her home, and just for a moment, she may dance for her friend too. 

End of Life Friendship

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