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.
"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.
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.
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