I have written about my extraordinary relationship with my sister-in-law and best friend Marilyn, long before she was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. I have written about her two-year courageous fight with the disease. I have written about my sorrow at the impending, unthinkable loss. Today, I am writing about my grief, my heartache, as Marilyn died August 18, 2021.
My grief is a black wave that comes over me in the middle of the night with the realization that I will never have a conversation with Marilyn again. During the day, for a split second, I reach for my phone to call her, just to share a quick something, as I always did. But now I ask myself, What would Mar do? What would Mar say? The answer is a hypothetical form created in my own mind based on 53 years of friendship.
Barbara and Marilyn
No more can we share our mutual “grandchildren joy,” telling each other about the delicious time spent with her four and my three. “Ezzie lost a tooth,” I excitedly shared and Mar added with pride, “Hannah got a job at Subway.”
No more can I laugh and say I found a new pair of shoes as she responded the way she always did: “You really need another pair?” I can’t share my work at the Museum of Tolerance with her, in which she was always fascinated and greatly interested. No matter what I told her, she always added, “That’s great, Barb,” and she always meant it.
Those who loved her, and there were many, are all grieving, all waking up every day, realizing yet again, they cannot call her on the phone; play Canasta or Mahjongg with her; have a quick coffee or lunch date; ask her to troubleshoot a computer glitch, or call just to hear her voice.
My brother Steve is in utter grief, having lost his best friend and life partner of 52 years. His successful mission these past two years was to provide Marilyn with as many quality days as possible with minimal pain. He did all of this with grace, love, and gratitude for the beautiful person who was his wife. And, then there are her children, Jill and Jason, and their spouses, who mourn their amazing mother and mother-in-law. Marilyn’s five nephews loved her dearly and mourn her daily, for she was a second mother to them all. Mar’s grandchildren were her absolute joy. Before she became ill, she did what so many grandparents love to do…spend as much time as possible with Haley, Hannah, Max, and Sydney. Overnights, fun excursions, carpools, baking together, watching their sports games, dance recitals, plays. When her granddaughters would visit from Arizona, she immediately researched fun places to take them, creating daily memories. That was Mar.
Steve and Marilyn
A wise person told me that I now have a huge space, a hole, that only Marilyn could fill. “Don’t try to fill it, as you cannot,” he advised. “Acknowledge it and in time you will learn to live with the empty space.” He also told me that when grief strikes, I should not ignore it. Instead, I should feel my feelings, for if I don’t, they will continue to surface until addressed. When I smell Mar’s perfume Angel or Hanae Mori, I am suddenly taken back to the sadness in my heart. I need to feel this, understand it, and walk through the anguish. Then, I can continue with my day. This advice makes a lot of sense, but it is so very hard.
One of my dearest friends, Denise, shared her wise and very helpful thoughts on grieving:
People grieve in different ways—crying is just one way of expressing one’s grief. Grief lives within you, and you work through it in your own way; grief is personal. There will be random times that it will hit you like a ton of bricks—so unexpected—and then other times, you feel you have things in a good perspective. There are no instructions except to be true to yourself and honor your feelings and recognize that the timeline for grief is different for everyone. But it is a hurt that stays with you and you learn to live with it.
I see Marilyn everywhere. I say hello to her smiling, healthy face on my desktop’s screensaver, a time when she wore make-up and her energy lasted until bedtime. Perhaps the cancer was brewing within, but she looks vibrant and full of life. We are smiling, shoulder to shoulder. I naively believed that life for the two of us could never change. I just knew that we would grow “old-old” together.
Source: Marilyn was so excited to find this pillow for me.
Marilyn lies within the treasured greeting cards she sent me over the years. Sometimes we would go together to the Hallmark store and pick out cards for each other. We would read them and laugh. “I love that one. This is so you,” she would add. She is in the “Sister Angel” on my desk and the funny sister pillow she just had to buy me when she saw it. She is in our matching rings. I hold on to the sweet memories of our girls’ weekends away; our coffee time; family celebrations; driving together (she was always in the driver’s seat).
More gifts from Marilyn
Even though, right now, there is an emptiness in my very essence, in time, Marilyn’s legacy will fill in the jagged edges of my broken soul. And such a legacy it is! Her goodness transcends death as does her unconditional love for those lucky enough to have been in her world. She deserves my joyful reflections of our decades together. She would want to be honored by the light; the laughter; and a rich life that she wanted me to have. My inner voice, Mar’s voice, declares: Keep going, Barbara. It’s okay to mourn me, but don’t stay in that place. Live your life and live it well. I mean it!
I smile through the pain, knowing I will listen to her as I always have.
Marilyn and Barbara in San Francisco