Friday, November 4, 2011

Facebook and Birthdays - When It Makes You Sad

Does it freak anyone else out when they see Facebook announce the birthdays of friends who have died? Or when it says "You haven't connected with (Name of Friend)" and suggests you do so?

Really, I'd love to connect.

My friend Mary Jane died this past summer. Between the topsy-turvy activities at work, vacation, some travel, regrouping, I'm not sure I really have grieved her death.

Mary Jane and I worked with each other for 30 years. Maybe longer if you count my volunteer time at WKAR before I was hired. We sat in on a ton of meetings -- some of which I used to call "the dysfunctional family pledge meetings" during which five of us, all with very different personalities, tried to whack out a money-making TV pledge schedule with a variety of programs that weren't particularly terrific.

Mary Jane with our colleague Marge

In these days before computers had good programs for putting the monthly broadcast schedule on easily changeable program grids (the programmer's collection of titles, broadcast rights and sources all put together in the monthly schedule), Mary Jane would come to those meetings (and every meeting) armed with post-it correction tape. She must have used miles of tape during her career, and we teased her about it constantly.

"One day your epitaph will read 'Here lies Mary Jane. She ran out of tape,'" I told her -- the correction tape being a pun with video tape, the format in vogue at the time. She would laugh heartily, agreeing.

At Maggiano's, Philadelphia with Joe, Mary Jane, Beany, and Steve

During countless PBS conferences we'd travel, dining at some terrific spots. At one, a Maggiano's in Philadelphia, she and I, along with three of our fellow colleagues (above), got into a conversation about asparagus and its effects on the gastrointestinal system that had us laughing so loudly and raucously that we were all quite sure that had we not been in a protected corner, we would have been asked to leave.

Another PBS trip to San Francisco, with Tim, Beany, Mary Jane and Steve

Mary Jane was one of the most honest women I've ever known, with little artifice. If you looked terrible, she'd tell you and ask if you were all right. If you had issues with your current gentleman caller and she knew enough about him to have an opinion, she would weigh in. When Mary Jane would tell me my coughing was getting worse, I knew I'd better make a doctor's appointment. And she'd remind me.

She also had a heart of gold. I recently found a notecard she sent that said "This just looked like you!" She always remembered me (and others) at the holidays. As the multiple myeloma that would one day take her away from us was beginning to take its toll on her body, she began to give her clothes away. Since I fit her old size, I was the beneficiary of a number of terrific jackets, sweaters and outfits, all of which I wear today.

Mary Jane was private. We could all tell her illness was intensifying as we would see her come to the station -- long after she had retired -- to volunteer. A small group of us would periodically go to dinner. She would eat little, but loved the company and always had a positive attitude and one of good cheer. Even when she was down a bit or frustrated, she still was upbeat, if that makes sense. It made being with her all the more fun.

I don't know if Mary Jane really realized she was dying the day I went to visit her, several days before the doctors told her Hospice was her option and about a week or so before she died. She was having a great day, glad to have company. I had brought her some silk flowers from a collection taken up by our staff and she loved them, partly because they were so cheery and partly because she knew they would last without the hassle of caring for them.

She said she was looking forward to going out to dinner with me and two of our colleagues, sorry that she had missed an Easter brunch not too long before. And, that she was looking forward to getting together with staff friends for lunch as soon as they could fix her up so she could eat again. She had a smile, she laughed. There was a spark.

Then she said, "I hope you won't feel bad about this, but I really want to give you back something you gave me for Christmas," she said. She reminded me I'd given her a gift card to one of our shopping areas, good for any store, restaurant or movie theatre. I knew she was paring down her possessions as well as needing smaller clothing and thought this way she could choose what she needed. I told her to hang onto it -- she was going to need new clothes when she got out, and if she didn't feel up to it, I'd be glad to go get her what she needed.

And I really thought, "she'll get out of here. We'll get a milk shake at Johnny Rockets, have dinner, and she can get a new blouse or pair of pants. Or maybe some books."

I thought maybe there would be more time. I was wrong.

I came home from vacation at the lake to attend Mary Jane's memorial service. She had a lot of friends and they all came. She had planned it all herself, down to the music. After, there was a luncheon at the church.

"Don't leave before I see you," my former general manager, Steve, said to me. "I have something for you." Steve was Mary Jane's executor and had helped her with the hospice arrangements and so much more. He later slipped into my hand an envelope. "Now don't freak out about this," he warned me.

I knew exactly what it was.

Today, Facebook will remind me to wish Mary Jane a Happy Birthday. I will do exactly that and lift a glass to toast Mary Jane. Although, it may seem sort of odd that the birthday girl is buying the drinks.

Note: The two close-up photos of Mary Jane is this post are by my friend Mike Lewis.


  1. Thanks for sharing this loving memory of Mary Jane, Jeanie. Seems like we're getting to that age where some of our treasured friendships must continue as memories.


  2. Everyone needs a friend like you, Jeanie. This is a beautiful tribute.

  3. I like what anonymous above said about our treasured friendships continuing as memories. You have done a wonderful job of sharing your memories of your friend. At first, what you said about FB and birthdays seemed a little creepy, but maybe it is just a good reminder to look at our memories and lift a glass.

  4. THis might possibly be your best post yet. And that is saying A LOT!

  5. I'm sorry about your friend... but what a wonderful tribute. I have friends who have died and their family member has kept their facebook active (which causes those birthday announcements to still appear).....

  6. That would be a bit unsettling for sure. I suppose the only way to avoid this would be to unfriend your deceased friend. Kind of a bummer.

  7. What a beautiful tribute to your friend. Thank you not only for sharing, but for reminding us that each day is precious and friends and family should be cherished. The tear in my eye and smile on my face is for everyone who calls someone "friend."

  8. What a beautiful tribute to a good friend. She has shown you (and now us) the way to leave friends behind without regret.

  9. I didn't know Mary Jane, but your tribute makes me wish I had. What a lovely tribute to your friend, Mary Jane. Enjoy the drinks on her. This said with tears in my eyes.

  10. Yes, this was a wonderful tribute for a long time friend. And it made me think I kind of like the concept of getting that annual reminder of a birthday of someone who is no longer with us. Reminds me of the song From Les Miz that has the words Drink With Me.

  11. As everyone else has said, this is a wonderful tribute to your friend. Clearly you meant a lot to one another.

  12. Yes, this was a wonderful tribute. She was an amazing woman. I am sorry for your loss. I am sure that writing this was important for you as a way to honor your friendship. Thanks for sharing this with us.

    My daughter set up my daughter Julie's page as a memorial page on Facebook after we began to get reminders to reconnect with her. The page has been a comfort for us as many of her friends will still post on it. By doing this, she also was able to stop those reminders that would be so upsetting.

  13. Your loving memories are beautifully expressed. Thank you for sharing a little bit of your friend.

  14. What a beautiful friend Mary Jane was to you; what a beautiful friend you are.

  15. What a touching post. I am so sorry for your loss. It is hard to really come to terms with losses like these, especially when you really do think they will turn the corner. And then when they pass, we are in denial, and there can be this great pause in the grieving process - and then it hits you one day. You see something that your loved one would appreciate or experience a moment you would like to share with them. And there it is - that grief that has been festering with time.

    I am glad you have many memories with this wonderful woman. It's just too bad she was taken from your life far too soon.

  16. Beatuiful memories. Thank you for sharing with us. Even from a distance, you remind us what friendship is - in life and death. From the otherside of the planet, from someone who's never met you in person - thank you friend for your honesty :)

  17. Great memories of a wonderful person. We always say: God fetches the best people first.

  18. What a beautiful post. *sniff* Mary Jane is definitely someone to remember yearly on her birthday (if not more often). And you are a talented tribute writer.

  19. Oh, Jeanie... how very sorry I am for the loss of your friend. My heart so goes out to you It seems we both have lost friend lately. Thank so much for warm condolences in kind. :o) So much enjoyed hearing about your friend and seeing much you must miss her. Thank you for all the sweet comments at my place. You were wondering about the knit poncho. Well, I think the two knit rectangles that I used to make it up were about 38" long each. I'm short and petite, so it was easy to make. Hope you'll give knitting a try! If you need help getting started--I'm happy to help. :o) ((LOVE & HUGS))

  20. What a lovely job you did of bringing Mary Jane to life for us. I'm so sorry for your loss. I'm glad you went to see her during her last days. Just a few days ago I was thinking about how seldom we get that last opportunity to say our goodbyes. A good friend is a true treasure.

  21. She was gone far to soon. She sounds like she was delightful in every way. I'm glad you got to have her in your life! :)

  22. What a lovely tribute to a beautiful friend...gone way too soon. You were BOTH very lucky to be in each others' lives! ( You and Relyn both made me cry with your posts today...)

  23. Jeanie, my eyes are full of tears. As touching as reflections on Patricia's life and your friendship with her. This entry was just beautiful.


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