Lessons From My Dear Friend, MarihelenSeptember 13, 2019
My darlings, this guest post was given to us by a lovely reader, Ginny Callahan. After experiencing the loss of a dear friend, Ginny reached out with this lovely piece. She speaks about the importance of friendship, the benefits of lifelong relationships with women and what her loss has taught her. Thank you for sharing your soul with us, Ginny.
My Dear Friend
I buried my dear friend Marihelen today. We were friends for 59 years.
I was 11 when we met; she was 12. We remained friends all through the years, even when I moved out of state. That’s how old friends are—distance doesn’t change the relationship. It just changes the means of communication.
The Fabric That Made Up Her Life
One unique thing happened today during the tribute for my lifelong friend. At her funeral, I was one of six pallbearers—all females.
Times have changed; wheels make lifting unnecessary. A pallbearer merely needs to walk with a hand on the casket and then guide it gently into place. It no longer requires the strength of the body—just a strength of spirit. And, at this special funeral, there was clearly an abundance of that.
It made me think that Marihelen would surely have approved.
Women made up the fabric of her life. Her sister, Terry, had chosen all women to be pallbearers. They represented each of the stages of Marihelen’s life from beginning to end.
My friendship with Marihelen started in late grade school and was cemented in high school.
We attended football games and sock hops, sharing stories of boys we liked and exasperating teachers. Marihelen had transferred to our school in 7th grade—a particularly difficult age to be uprooted. But Marihelen, with her bright smile and upbeat attitude, fit right in with my tight circle of friends.
We developed into a close group of five adolescents, ones who have never lost touch and are still friends today.
Her cousin, Barbara, was part of Marihelen’s life from beginning to end. If you are lucky, your family is there throughout your life. And Marihelen was indeed lucky. Huge yearly reunions, with family coming from far and wide, were the glue that ensured this family was always there for each other.
A few years ago, after learning of the fight ahead of her, Marihelen rented a large house in Ireland and invited family and friends to come and visit her. And visit they did! A memorable trip for the entire entourage.
Sharon also guided Marihelen’s casket. Their friendship began in their early married lives, after meeting in a neighborhood women’s club. Their friendship was made with women who shared the commonality of the challenges of husbands and children. They maintained their friendship far beyond that hectic time in a woman’s life. But Marihelen always made time to nurture friendships. Sharon was among the group of friends that Marihelen sustained for over 40 years.
A Collector of Friends
Marihelen was surely a collector of friends, but more importantly, she always nurtured and maintained those friendships.
Leslie hand-guided Marihelen’s casket too. She was a close work friend, a nurse working alongside Marihelen for many years. It was a different kind of relationship than her others—sharing the joys and tribulations that are part of every job—and that others simply cannot understand. Yet another relationship that started with common ground and continued with shared moments and shared lives.
Finally, Marihelen’s beautiful granddaughters, Brooke, and Anna Mae–who she treasured so–were there to see their beloved grandmother to the very end. You can’t understand the joy of having granddaughters until going down that path. Marihelen would have been so happy to see them there walking by her side.
Representing Parts of a Whole
I was incredibly honored to be part of that special cadre of women representing the most important parts of a woman’s life. We each represented the varied relationships that feed a woman’s soul—each in a different way, but each so important.
It was hard to say goodbye, but it was gratifying to be part of a goodbye that Marihelen would have wholeheartedly endorsed. It almost felt as if she had orchestrated it. I’m pretty sure Marihelen was speaking from beyond the grave—and her sister Terry was clearly listening.
We should all be so lucky to have our final goodbye so reflective of whom we truly were.
Post Script: Lessons to Be Learned
A few days after writing this post to share with you all, I realized something. Although I had thought I was done writing about this day in my life, I realized that the true test in life is looking at an experience—good or bad—and uncovering the lesson.
It is why older people with many years of experience see themselves as wise. It’s not those experiences that make you wise, but what you learned from them that counts. Everyone experiences loss and grief, but it’s what you do with it that matters.
What Did I Learn?
So what did I learn from losing Marihelen?
I learned that being a friend collector—which Marihelen was and I am also—is not enough. In fact, that is the easy part.
Life is hectic and there is never enough time to fit everything in. So, sometimes you mean to connect with your friends and it just doesn’t happen. Even in retirement, where time is not at as much of a premium, I have my fair share of I meant to’s.
My Lesson: Don’t Delay
I became a snowbird five years ago and returned to family and old friends in Chicago each summer.
This year, Marihelen and I kept saying we were overdue to get together for dinner. But life got in the way—for both of us. I see now that my lesson here is don’t delay. Nurture your friendships, old and new.
Sometimes we think that the gift of an old friendship is that even if we put them on the back burner—when we connect—it feels like no time has passed. Sadly, that is giving permission of sorts to let it go.
Now, with my new lesson in hand, I am going to go through my contact list. I am going to write down the names of everyone I have been remiss about connecting with. For me, a written list is much less likely to be ignored or forgotten than a list on my iPad with of all the To Do’s that have ever been on my list.
I think that this will be the most pleasant and gratifying thing to tend to. One I will never entirely finish. Because once I get through the list, it will be time to do it again!
Article by Ginny Callahan
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