As one by one I encounter the passing of a friend or family member I cannot help but think about each of them and his or her unique contribution to society or to my life. There were so many friends I chummed around with who did not make it to old age. I miss Edna, she not only colored the pages of my life, she went out of the lines and broadened my horizons in many ways. She would call me after an absence and say “…meet me in Kat Mandu…” Edna, a marine biology major at Ohio State University and a participant in Strollers Dramatic Society, where I met her doing prop work and painting scenery, went on to Washington, D.C. where she got a job with the Department of Labor as a programmer. She encouraged me to move to D.C., which I did in 1966.
A friend who moved to New York City wrote me that a Jesuit Seminarian who came as a patient to the medical office she worked in was moving to D.C., would I contact him.
I did and that was the start of a long friendship with Francis McGuire, S.J. Frank, my roommate, Carol and I became like the three musketeers. In time Frank went to Japan and met my future in-laws before I did, he was our best man, baptized our daughter, and eventually moved on to be Chaplain at the Newman Hall I think at Rutgers University. Dementia set in by the time he was 51. That news brought me to tears.
Back here in Ohio, I worked downtown and rode the bus for fourteen years. Riding the bus was quite an experience and there were a half dozen of us who left town together and laughed and talked our way home many evenings. Ruth was a decade and a half older than I but I treasured her companionship and always sought the wisdom of her perspective on my difficulties. When she took the retirement buyout from her employer of 40 years, we kept in touch by phone. I went to see her in the hospital, and looked forward to her recovery. When I was not able to find her by phone and the cancer home told me “she left” I asked if she died and they said they were not at liberty to say that. Finally I found her obituary online and I was bereft.
Have ya got a minute?
A couple of times a week the phone rang,
“Have ya got a minute?” Ruth would say
after I said hello.
Sometimes it was just before I went walking,
or just as I was about to eat dinner,
sometimes it was when I was acutely aware of
Listening to her words of wisdom,
I calmed down, felt reinforced.
Sometimes just the cadence of her voice over the
phone eased my depression.
I can still conjure up the cheerful voice,
see her smiling face.
I learned last week of her death.
I already miss the friend who called a couple of times
a week or responded anytime I needed to hear from her.
Hey, Ruth, “Have ya got a minute?”
Barb and I knew each other since we double and triple dated with our friends Carole and Doris just out of high school. Though our lives all took different directions, we stayed in touch and met at least once a year. It seemed unreal when the vivacious and attractive Barbara was taken out by cancer three years ago.
When people are dynamic, or play an intense role, or are just always there, they really leave a vacuum and it is hard to believe they are really gone. Advanced age does not seem to make it easier to let them go. This past winter some of my cousins lost the last remaining figure from their father’s generation. I felt so lucky to have been invited to lunch at her home just before Christmas to absorb a little of her wisdom. Then there was Nettie, my across the street neighbor from Parma, who died at 91 just after Christmas. I stood in her driveway as her daughter, red faced from crying told me about Nettie’s passing. Yet another loss.
Swiss Cheese Heart
Swiss cheese has holes in it.
It is my favorite kind of cheese.
But sometimes my heart feels
Like Swiss cheese,
with lots of holes in it.
Sometimes it feels like there are
more holes than solid walls.
Every time someone I love dies,
or walks out of my life,
bang, there’s another hole in my heart.
How much longer can I stay alive
with so much of my heart cut away?