Grief calls to grief. How many times have I used that phrase? I remember the first time I walked into a funeral home after Mom died; you all know what that was/is like. In almost 42 years, I have walked into many funeral homes, attended many wakes and funerals.
Today I write about another death that impacted me greatly. My dear friend, Marilou, died on March 24 at the age of 92 ½. A great woman, friend, role model, Marilou and I became close from the day she walked into the SPS hotline – September 11, 2001. Yes, that’s a date in the history of our country that no one will forget. I had no idea, that in addition to the overwhelming sadness, fear, and grief I felt that day, that a gift would emerge. (My mentor, Iris Bolton, who turned 90 recently, was told when her son died by suicide in 1977, that “gifts” would emerge from his death. While she later found that to be true, the minister that told her that the day her son died, was asked to leave her home.)
Marilou’s shift was every Wednesday from 8 a.m. – noon. She drove from Elgin. She was 72 years old when she started with SPS. We chatted every week and she said, “I’ll never leave you”. Well. She retired from hotline duty in 2015. As our friendship continued, she once told me she didn’t think she’d ever leave me (SPS) because she thought she’d die – not retire. This was a big part of her sense of humor. I lured Marilou onto the SPS Board of Directors where she stayed for many years. She co-chaired our annual fall brunch and offered so many wise words as the board struggled with varying issues. She left the board when computers became the primary way of communicating amongst the members. While I’d print things out for her or call her on the phone, she told the board one day that it was her time to be replaced.
I attended her 80th, 90th, and the first anniversary of her 90th birthday parties. When turning 92, she took her family out to dinner. Marilou and I began to meet for lunch at The Turf Room in North Aurora just about every other month. Lunch included 2.5 black and white martinis plus food. We always ordered the same food. We spent no less than 3 hours together during those lunches. In her words, “Stephanie, with us, there are ‘no holds barred’ when it comes to talking.” Absolutely true.
In the time we spent together, she’d had a major automobile accident (from which she came back with ) returned to her hotline shift. She’d had a hospitalization or 2 along the way. It was 2 years in December of 2020 since she’d been told she had 2 spots of cancer on her liver. She made the decision at that time to watch it but not to have any treatment. We continued our lunches until stupid Covid came and then, when we could, we’d meet in the restaurant as it opened and closed and reopened.
We were to have lunch on February 25 when she called me and simply said, “I’m not feeling well today. Call me to reschedule.” I’m going to think at this time she had been told that the cancer had spread to her colon but the thing to understand about Marilou was that she’d tell you things on her terms which is “a need to know basis.”
A few weeks later, on Sunday, March 14, she called to tell me that the cancer had spread. “Can I come and see you and bring black and whites and lunch?” I asked. “Of course!” said she. “Skip the food. I don’t eat more than a bite. Just bring the black and whites.”
There was a bit of concern on her son’s part (he was living with her and caring for her) because she was on morphine. She was fully dressed, sitting in a wheelchair, and very much the woman I knew. Her son, Robert, is deaf. Marilou communicated with him via sign language and he could read lips. He frowns at the 2 of us as I open my picnic basket to show her the martini glasses and the canned martini’s. “What?” we both asked. He stated verbally and signed to her that she was on morphine. “I’m DYING”, she said. He told us she could have “1 sip”. We agreed. Then he disappeared into his room for great lengths of time, emerging only to check on her or to help her to the bathroom.
I held the glass but…between us – we finished a martini each. I found out after she died that she had signed to him to leave us alone for our visit. I had to put in all the above because it so well captured her.
She’d made her funeral arrangements years ago. She spoke with me often about them. She was very matter-of-fact about her life and her death. I admired her forthrightness, her tenacity (raising 3 boys on her own after a divorce). She went about her life, always seemingly in charge.
Marilou’s funeral was exactly as she wanted it, down to writing part of the eulogy and writing her own message on the memorial card. I sobbed through most of it. Mom died at 61, alone in her bed. She was depressed and no longer could keep taking it day – by-day. My job, as I see it, is to finish her life “better.” Suicide became an option for me after her death but I have fought at times, and will continue to fight dying in that way. Marilou has showed me a different way.
My daughter, Jen, has made me promise to live to be 103. My goal is to live as long as I can as Marilou did. She jumped out of an airplane on her 80th b’day. Maybe I’ll do that too! She demonstrated how to be real and present, how to not take crap from people. Her life was not an easy one. Her childhood years were horrible. Her 1st and only marriage ended in divorce. She’d adopted 3 boys and learned that the youngest one was deaf when he was 2 months old. She plowed through over and over again. Like all of our lives go, she had big bumps as well as many beautiful sunrises.
Today I’m feeling philosophical so I’m thinking that Mom made it to 61 years and Marilou made it to almost 93. SO many others have passed through my life and left parts of themselves in my heart. What are the lessons? Too many to recount. Having the chance to say goodbye makes so much difference, doesn’t it? We didn’t have that chance with our loved ones who made a decision without any input from us.
We do our best to survive and move forward…