I sent out Christmas cards this year – a habit I’ve resurrected since retirement – and one of the ones I sent was to my mother’s long-time best friend, Helen. Today the card was returned as “undeliverable, no forwarding address”. Since she and her second husband split their time between Florida and Canada and they were getting on in years, I optimistically hoped that just meant the traveling had become too much for them and they were staying in Canada year round. I phoned the Florida number – disconnected. I phoned the Canada number – disconnected. Fearing the worst, I Googled and discovered the worst – she passed away last June 2nd.
I managed to track down her youngest daughter on Facebook (as rotten as it sometimes is, it sure has it’s uses) and within a few minutes I was messaging with her and found that Helen passed from cancer and was gone two months after the diagnosis. Even more tragic, her second husband Mario committed suicide a week after her death.
I first met Helen when I was about 7 years old when her oldest son who was the same age as me slammed my head in a shed door and gave me a black eye. Helen, her first husband George and their four kids become our family’s instant best friends (black eye notwithstanding). They had just moved in next door and they lived there for most of my early childhood. When they migrated to upstate New York in the early 70’s to find work, my parents followed and moved in next door to them again. They were pretty much family and I honestly can’t remember a time in my life when they weren’t around. We all drifted apart some years later, as so often is the case. Kids grew up and moved away; Helen and George moved to Ohio to be near their youngest daughter and my parents stayed in New York and ultimately retired and moved back to Maine. They all stayed in touch with a card or a phone call a couple of times a year, but rarely saw each other.
George passed away in 1996 a few years after they moved to Ohio, and Helen was devastated. She remarried a couple of years later and Mario was a wonderful guy – they were together for 20 years – but George remained the love of her life. She’s buried in Ohio next to George so they are together again, at least physically but while I find a bit of comfort in that, it also makes me sad for Mario who loved her so much that he felt he couldn’t go on living without her. I tried to find his obituary and final resting place, but no luck. I assume he’s interred near his family in Canada but that’s only a guess.
Helen and Mario visited once a few months before my mother died and I got to see them. Helen was in her early 80’s then but you would never have guessed it. She was energetic, sharp as a tack and looked 20 years younger. We stayed in touch every 6-8 months after that – Christmas and birthday cards mostly. I hadn’t spoken to her since late last winter. Of course now I wish I had just picked up the phone and called.
This feels very much like the end of an era for me. I remember how sad my parents were at my age when people near to them began dying at a pretty rapid rate and I didn’t really understand it at the time. But I admit I do now – it leaves you feeling in a way that is hard to describe – like your own place in the world erodes a little with each person in your life who passes, like you somehow belong in the world a little less each time someone who played a big part in your life dies. It just goes to show that the most important things, the things that define us in this life, are really the people around us, the friends and family that we love and who love us. Without them, we lose our anchor.
Feels like I just lost another little piece of my own.