Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Power of Friendship

I mentioned in an earlier post that my childhood friend, Marilyn Day Leibenguth, had died recently of a catastrophic brain bleed. Her husband and the love of her life, Walt, had invoked her Living Will and had let her die peacefully and without too much intervention, once it was established that she had no chance at any future quality of life, if surgery kept her alive. Five days after the "event", Marilyn died quietly, her husband by her side.

I was lucky enough to be able to visit her before she died, through a series of rather remarkable coincidences. I am in daily email contact with a group of five women friends from my high school days, all of us graduates of McEwen High School in Athena, Oregon. Our graduating class was about 18 members, and now four of those members are dead. We began to keep in touch several years ago after two members died in fairly rapid succession, Audrea Montee Kyle and Donna Youncs Myers, may they rest in peace.

And I got an email early one morning from Bonnie, mentioning that Judy had called to tell her that Sue had said that Marilyn had had an aneurysm and was in a Seattle hospital. I was stunned. Marilyn was my best friend from fifth grade through junior year in high school, though we had lost touch except for Christmas cards, over the years. As the day wore on, I sorted out in my mind that I could possibly find her in whatever Seattle hospital she was in and maybe get to say goodbye. So I called Bonnie, who gave me Judy's cell phone; Judy put me on the phone with Sue, who was visiting, and I got enough information to locate Marilyn and visit her before she died.

The funny thing is that I wasn't that close to these other women in high school, despite our proximity living in a town of about 800 souls. My dad was the Baptist minister and most of them attended the Christian church ("Daddy, aren't Baptists Christians?" "Yes, honey, but not the same way that the Christian church people are."). But we knew each other. We knew each others' parents and siblings, we rode each others' horses in the fields, we drove pea and wheat trucks together in harvest, we cheered wildly at the same pep rallies and events.

But we ran around in somewhat different crowds. They all could go to the movies and the dances in town. We Baptist kids could not. They had a little more freedom than I did and we rarely did much together. Until now. Now we have sleepovers and gettogethers in Portland, in Athena, wherever and whenever we can get together. They are coming to visit me this fall; we are getting together this summer as well, at Athena's Caledonian Days, which always becomes an "everyone who is still vertical" reunion for McEwen grads.

I think this is nothing short of miraculous. Together we have talked about our lives in that safe little town, we have helped each other deal with death, illness, job conflict, children with problems, and life generally. Each woman contributes her own special flavor to our conversations. Judy manages to note everything that is going on and keeps track; Bonnie tells us about grape harvest in Oregon; Mary Alice keeps us up to date on eastern Oregon doings, as she is the only one who lives near Athena now; Diann writes from California about her life with hunky Ted, the boy we all liked and she married; Donna keeps us in stitches with stories about her irrepressible dogs and the trials of remodeling her new house.

They are all still married to their first husbands. I, the goody-two-shoes of our youth, got divorced after 13 years and am still single. So much for the "good girl" theory of life that my upbringing imposed upon me!

Anyhow, let this post be a tribute to friendship, to small towns, and to the persistence of women who knew that our lives together were blessed and that this history and association must be preserved.

No comments: