Friday, February 11, 2011

Missing Mary

I feel blue.  This is generally a tough time of year for me, as it is for many people.  I think I have some seasonal depression goin’ on, and when the weather is gray and cold I start to feel pretty down.  Add to that the fact that winter holds some pretty significant anniversaries for me.  I lost my mom in December and my friend, whom I will call Mary,  in February, so the winter months can bring a lot of sadness.

I went out last night to get my toes done.  That’s right . . . I had two whole hours to myself!  I got my toes done and then went to Bed, Bath, and Beyond where I made a purchase that I now need to return, Walgreens, and a Chinese restaurant from which we will no longer be ordering.  (Cat.)  It was all VERY glamorous.  While I was at the nail salon, however, I heard Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” 

Years ago when Simon and Garfunkel were on their final tour Mary and I went to see them in concert. Mary was not known for her musical knowledge, but she humored me several times by going to see James Taylor in the pouring rain and John Denver in the scorching heat.  She said the Simon and Garfunkel Old Friends concert was one of the best she’d ever attended.

Often music serves as the background in life - I know “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by heart and I’ve sung it in the shower a gazillion times.  But last night, I really listened to the lyrics and I’ve been a little weepy ever since.  

When you're weary
Feeling small
When tears are in your eyes
I will dry them all

I'm on your side
When times get rough
And friends just can't be found
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down

When you're down and out
When you're on the street
When evening falls so hard
I will comfort you

I'll take your part
When darkness comes
And pain is all around
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down

Sail on Silver Girl,
Sail on by
Your time has come to shine
All your dreams are on their way

See how they shine
If you need a friend
I'm sailing right behind
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind

Mary died of heart failure in February of 2009.  I think of Mary all the time and I miss her terribly.  She would have adored Small and it pains me that she will never know him, especially because she knew exactly how much and how long we had hoped for him.  

I had the first of two miscarriages in 2008.  I was scared and feeling isolated in NYC.  My entire support system was back home in Virginia; I really needed my own mother, Hubby was out of town, and my mother-in-law was unable to come up to help out with the boys.  Mary said simply, “I’ll come.  I want to do this for you.”  She hopped on the train and was with me within days.  She came with me to the doctor’s office, and I remember lying there, terrified. I was shaking and I was cold. She walked in the room, silent; she held my hand and cried with me.  She took on my pain and my fear as if they were her own, and in turn lessened my burden.  It’s ironic, because her demise a year later was largely a result of her feelings of weakness.  She never recognized her own strength.

I wrote once before about my failed friendship with my former BFF.  One of the reasons we are on the outs is because she says she feels I judge her.  Once when we were with a group of my friends, she said that she found it interesting that all my friends were so different from each other.  I explained that I have dear friends whom I know from different areas of my life. 

I have girlfriends whom I’ve known since we were three years old, I have girlfriends from high school, girlfriends from work, mothers of my boys’ playmates, etc.  My friends are Republicans, Democrats, free-thinkers, status-quo’ers, gay, straight, educated, blue-collar, pot-smokers, hard-partiers, teetotalers, spenders, shoppers, single, married, divorced, artists, intellectuals, athletes, bookworms, actors, Catholics, Jews, Buddhists, Mormons, private schoolers, public schoolers, meat-eaters, and, like me, chicketarians . . . the list goes on.  Our differences, our strengths, AND our weaknesses are what makes the world go ‘round.  Mary was struggling with her demons, but I loved her unconditionally.  I know she loved me too, and THAT’s what makes a true friendship.  It was not a cursory friendship – it was the real deal and I feel a huge void with her gone. 

So I’m feeling a little sad, and wishing still that I could have helped her battle her issues.  Life goes on, and we learn how to adapt to the changes that come with a loved one’s passing.  The loss becomes a part of who you are and ultimately gives you a silent strength . . . a resilience borne of necessity and a means to honor those we have loved and lost.

For those who are interested, the following is the eulogy I gave at Mary’s service.  I include it here because I still feel that it captures her essence and it makes me smile to remember her with laughter.  Here’s to my friend . . .

One of the first things that drew me to Mary was her sense of fun.  I first met her when we were both teaching part-time at GFHS.  It was my first “grown-up” job after college and I was eager to establish myself as a professional.  And yet one of my first memories of her is of us at Staples.  We had gone to pick up school supplies and somehow we found ourselves in the office furniture section of the store, pretending to page each other to the office:  “Mrs. L, please see me in the main office.”  Hanging out with Mary was, quite simply, fun.  She brought out the silly in all of us. 
         Mary was a beautiful blend of glamour and craziness.  When we first started at GFHS she had these cat-eye glasses with rhinestones that I never would have been able to pull off.  She put much effort into what she wore and how she looked, and we often said that if we’d been on Gilligan’s Island, she’d be the Ginger to our Mary Annes.  She was polished, but she was real.  When M was around 3-years-old, she had fussed at him one day before coming in to work.  She was so upset with herself, she said she felt like crawling under her desk and hiding.  And then she did!  I distinctly remember a group of us teachers reassuring her that the situation would work itself out and trying to convince her to come out from under her desk because, well, it was time to go teach the children.
         Mary was the one who brought fake parking tickets on a road trip so that we could give citations to fellow travelers at the rest-stop.  She kept a mannequin, whom she named Lafonda, in her classroom and she was the proud owner of a giant stone cat with painted toe nails that now graces her back yard. Normal people have random keys tucked in a junk drawer somewhere, afraid to throw them away lest you discover what they actually unlock.  Mary has probably 100 useless keys proudly displayed on a bulletin board in her kitchen.  And she was not a practical gift giver: I now own an expandable fork, a “complimentary” cereal bowl that tells me I’m wonderful! And a fairly blasphemous mirror, because it’s important to be “lookin’ good for Jesus.”     
         Mary was game for any adventure, as long as it didn’t involve camping.  Mary was a Waldorf-Astoria kind of gal, not one who pees in the woods.  Her sense of mischief turned even the mundane into entertainment.  During an inservice at the school board building, she and I took photos of each other sitting in the superintendent’s chair.  There we were, feet up on his desk, filing our nails, with Dr. Ed’s nameplate prominently displayed.  Probably not the best career move for two probationary teachers. 
Her creativity was evident in the kitchen, in her art classes, in her classroom and in her home.  Not many mothers take photos of their children and then paste googly eyes on top – those were some bizarre family photos!  I will miss her annual entry into the Manassas Gingerbread House contest and the Washington Post Peeps Diorama contest, where entrants make a scene constructed of Marshmallow Peeps. 
Being Mary’s friend was not always easy, but I suppose true friendship never really is.  Many of us, her friends, have experienced the entire cycle of life with her.  We struggled with her through her husband’s illness and death, and tried to help her get back on her feet as a new widow and mother to young children.  We celebrated engagements, marriages, and new babies, and we grieved miscarriages, ailing parents, and death. 
Most of all I will miss my friend.  I hope that I am always able to emulate her commitment to her family.  She spoke often of her parents and her siblings and she was proud of where their lives had taken them, whether it be close to home or to a foreign land.  Mostly she was fiercely proud of her children.  Mary loved teaching and loved being with her colleagues, but when she left school, she gave herself over 100% to being a mother.  Mary’s greatest accomplishment in this world and what will be her legacy is her children.  E, I am saddened that I didn’t have the pleasure of watching you grow up as I did R and M.  In all sincerity, R and M are two of the finest young men I know – they are warm, kind, polite, strong, generous people who each have their own strengths and dreams.  I am awed by the contributions they’re sure to make to this world.  Let’s not forget that Mary did that.  She made them who they are and has encouraged them to be true to themselves. 
Mary was far from perfect, but she was real.  Life handed her some tough circumstances and she did the very best she could.  And she struggled, as we all do from time to time.  My heart is broken, but it’s broken because I loved her, and I was blessed to have experienced the whirlwind that accompanied her friendship.  I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.

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