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Dear Marilyn,

PWHatPointing

I’m at your house sitting on the lanai and watching an impressive thunderstorm whip through the palm trees and create a rapid water flow down the canal. Just the kind of thing you love to watch. But you’re not here with me, and won’t be, ever again. In fact, these next few days will likely be my last moments with this particular view. I soak it in and think of all the hours we’ve sat here together over the last 17 months, your favorite place to whittle away early morning hours and cool afternoons. I’ve seen sunsets and sunrises right here. And watched an alligator amble lazily down the canal. Today the summer bushes bloom with vivid pink flowers and your orchid soaks up the moisture from the rain.

Today’s summer storm finds you in bed, breathing down your final days on earth, with family at your side.  Today your hard fought battle to stay alive ends with your diseased pancreas and liver winning the war.  60 good years Marilyn and 17 months intensely aware of the gift of life.

Marilyn&MeDinnerDuring those 17 months I’ve been hyper-tuned to living too – coming down to Florida to play, commiserate, share confidences, reminisce and to re-energize a friendship that began more than 50 years ago.  Every few months we’d resume our ongoing conversation, as though our past years of periodic contact were mere minutes apart. Our friendship was as easy as always with intimate conversation developing within moments of walking in the door. You’ve always been the perfect blend of friend and sister – frister?  You’re my Byer and I’m your Richey

 

M,Bob&MeSushiGeeze – was it really 50+ years ago when I’d run two doors down to your house every Christmas morning? Sometimes still in my pajamas, never wanting to be late for presents.  And there was always something under the tree! And a big family dinner to anticipate.

KidsWeekdays we’d rush home from school to watch General Hospital and Days of Our Lives with a giant can of Charles Chips between us – sometimes barbecued, sometimes not. You loved the burnt curled ones, which was perfect because I wanted the big flat chips!  Then during commercials we’d grab a cup of coffee and whatever wonderful something your mother had baked. Or a piece of white toast, butter, sugar and cinnamon. Your house was the only place I ever had that concoction.

Your family summer vacations down the shore always had me in tow. We’d walk the boardwalk looking for cute boys and singing Beach Boy songs. You’d wear short shorts to advertise your beautiful, tan legs.  Mine were covered but I’d display other attributes (wink, wink).  Then we’d talk the night away in bed til your mother  – achem – “asked” us to go to sleep.

Your family picnics, years’ worth of them. Yep – I went to them too. Aunt Edie, Uncle Rennard, Mickey, the Dearys, Uncle Lee – weren’t they my family too?

And all the evenings I had dinner at your house and all the sleep overs where we’d whisper in bed til the wee hours of the morning – even on school nights.

And weekends playing Barbie dolls and as we got older, riding in your Volkswagon Beetle. And sometimes even liking the same boy. That wasn’t as much fun.

And choir practice and colored guard and Marble Hall Swim Club.

Marilyn, Bob, son Michael & family

Marilyn, Bob, son Michael & family

 

And then Michael was born. You’d just given him a bath and placed him on the bassinette to be diapered then – woosh – his water fountain started and landed in his ear.

We laughed so hard we could barely breathe!

Marilyn's grandchildren

Marilyn’s grandchildren

 

 

 

 

 

 

Down the road came Bob Kile. Oh, I remember hearing about that handsome farmer you met whose blue eyes made your heart melt. You found the one – you told me – and were off to become a farmer’s wife.

Eventually you brought him here, to this house in Venice, FL – where you’ve loved living for 5 years now?  Your beautiful home, beloved lanai, bright sunshine and warm community. It’s where you belonged. And it’s where Bob took very good care of you – in many ways – most recently as a selfless, devoted caregiver.

 

Marilyn & husband Bob

Marilyn & husband Bob

 

 

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MarilynBySwampArea

 

Byer, you put up a noble fight these past 17 months & lived well because of it. Your determination kept you going – and fighting spirit inspired everyone around you.  That insistence to hang on catalyzed me to consider some important questions about life.  Thank you for that.

You’ve always been so full of life & so strong – laughed easily, loved big, vivacious and an easy conversationalist. Those who know you would call you a big person – not in size, but certainly in presence.

 

All the different places you’ve lived, all the different phases of life you’ve experienced, with the same being true for me. Yet we always stayed in touch and up to date on each other’s lives.

M&MebikeYou’ve been an important friend to me Marilyn. And because we’ve had 17 months to talk, you know how and why.  As a kid, I needed you and your family and you were always there, as were your parents. I told them that before they died. And I’ve told you.

 

What’s left is to say goodbye, my oldest and dearest friend. I love you, I’ll think of you often and I’ll miss you.  Til we meet again …

MSmiling

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JanShell1This month’s shell is pristine enough to be sold in a beach souvenir shop instead of where I found it, lying among other scattered shell fragments on a beach somewhere in Florida.  Shelling is a favorite past-time for tourists in Florida, for locals too I think.  It’s what I seem to do when walking the beach with my eyes glued to the sand to avoid stepping on sharp things.  I can’t help but pick up pretty shells to later put in one of the decorative bowls in my house.

FullBowlShellsThis one came from a specific bowl that I filled with 12 shells, each one signifying one month of life.  My intention is to stay aware of each month so I can appreciate the relationship of time and my life.  With this one gone, there are eight months left to this particular year.  When looked at that way, it becomes rather glaring that my days of life continue to tick away.  My how a year goes by quickly.  And what do I do with that time?

 January, was occupied by friends, mostly, and if not being with them then thinking about them.  Maybe that’s because of the underlying thread of death and dying that confronted me this month.  Of course there was my ongoing hospice work, but also a very dear man I know dropped dead suddenly, and a different very important friend is facing health challenges that threaten her longevity.  During times of losing someone or potentially losing someone the importance of relationships take center stage.  Or rather, threatening times make you realize how important relationships really are.  When facing death people don’t wish they’d worked harder or longer hours.  They tend to lament the amount of time spent with people they love.  So I’m taking time with good friends while I still live in blissful ignorance of my eventual demise.

Marilyn&MeFor starters there was Marilyn, a friend who dates back to early childhood.  Was I five when we first played together?  She lived two houses down from us and her family was my second family.  I showed up every Christmas morning, as early as my mother would allow, sometimes in my pjs to catch everyone opening their presents.  There was always one for me and later I’d asked if I could stay for dinner.  Never knew about proper etiquette back then.  Actually, I practically lived at Marilyn’s house – spent several school day afternoons each week there, summer vacations at the beach with her family (mine never took vacations), family picnics, many family dinners and countless overnights whispering the nights away together.  Her house was my escape hatch when family wars in mine became overbearing.  Now Marilyn says we’re better than sisters.  I have to agree, and it started … 50 years ago?  Oy vey!

rainbow01Marilyn is facing a serious health challenge now; it might be the fight of her life – for her life.  She lives in Florida and though I’m in Tennessee the distance is not keeping us from our necessary friendship.  She needs me and I need her; I’ve always needed her.  And we’ll get through this together, one way or another.  The first week of this month was spent at her house just when we received her mind numbing diagnosis.  Serendipity?

And then I came home to a text message from a former colleague and friend with the news about Jerry, how his wife discovered him the next morning and surmised he died in his sleep.  59 years old.  Friends, family and colleagues were stupefied by the news.  Say what?  Really?  How the hell … ?  And now Facebook is littered with photos of him and memories galore.  His wife, shell shocked.  And yet – what a way to go, huh?  One day you’re here living your life – and he lived his with gusto – and the next day it’s all over.  No pain, no suffering, no dreadful diagnosis that makes you evaluate your life.  If I got to choose, I’d make sure I enjoyed the living while the living was good – then checked out, Jerry’s way.

Well I do get to choose – at least the first half of the equation.  I do have the power to enjoy my life, love my friends and family and live with no regrets.  And so far – I’m right on target…

best_friends_sketch_by_0ouo0-d45uu73Which brings me to Judie.  She and I worked together many years ago in Pittsburgh during our radio days.  She was a reporter I was a producer and we were tight friends.  35 years later we still are – though we’ve lived separately in a few different cities since then.  Still do – she in California, me in Tennessee.  But when we catch up it’s as though our last conversation was yesterday.  Thanks to Facebook we stay in touch and just had one of our catch up phone calls the other day.  We talked about needing to get together soon and play because … you just never know, now do you?

I have a couple very dear friends here at home that I haven’t seen in a while – they moved recently and have become caught  up in their lives like I have in mine.  But that’s not a good excuse especially since we now live five minutes apart.

OK then – February will bring time together with them.

What have you done with your life in January?

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Christmas in the post-War United States

I love the Christmas holiday time, but only after Thanksgiving.  It annoys me to see Christmas upstage Halloween and Thanksgiving in all the commercial venues.

Halloween doesn’t do much for me now that I’m past the candy gorging years but I really enjoy Thanksgiving, what it signifies and the time spent with family.  Then I’m ready to move on to Christmas, playing my share of carols in the car and while decorating (a little bit) around the house.

English: Hanukkah menorah, known also as Hanuk...

The time span from Thanksgiving through Christmas is when I think a lot about friends, who they are and what they mean.  This holiday has no religious significance to me as a non-Christian with Jewish heritage, but it holds plenty of sentimental significance.

I don’t stay in touch well.  Not good on the phone.  Don’t entertain much.  And don’t really spend a lot of hang out time with people who are important to me. In fact, many of them live in different cities around the country. But they never lose their places in my heart.  My close friends, my “peeps” in today’s parlance, are people who date way back to childhood, college, early work years and later work years.  Each of them means something special and represents a certain kind of relationship, one that automatically resumes where we left off even it was a year or two or five or even 25 ago.  Our bond holds fast and strong and if any of them needed me, wherever they lived, I’d be there ASAP.

This is generally called a Christmas Cactus, b...

So it’s to them — you — that I wish happy holidays, whether it’s Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa or nothing at all. It signifies the closing of another year. They go fast and furiously these days so enjoy every minute of them with those you hold dear.

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