By Harriet P. Gross
How ironic. A few weeks ago I wrote about Rabbi Daniel Grayber’s dilemma: Judaism’s lack of procedures for how one might mourn the loss of a treasured friend. And here I am now, wishing for the same kind of advice as I mourn a dear friend who wasn’t even Jewish.
Marj and I worked at the same suburban newspaper chain in the Chicago area, but for a long time, we were barely acquainted. I was on the editorial side; she, a woman far ahead of her time with college degrees in chemistry and math, was the company’s computer maven. After years of lab work and teaching, she jumped bravely into the new technology and made our newsroom America’s first to go from old Royal typewriters to IBM Selectrics and the wonders of CompuScan. We writers followed her, kicking and screaming all the way, but were very grateful later.
After an ugly divorce, Marj decided to indulge herself in a special experience — going to North America’s major Shakespeare Festival at Stratford, Ontario. She loved to drive, so the 500-mile trip was nothing to her. But she found the experience itself lonely; she wanted someone to discuss the plays with, before and after seeing them.
So the next spring, she called me, cold, saying she didn’t really know me, but she knew my writing and figured I’d enjoy the Stratford experience, too. Did I want to go with her during the coming summer?
I did, and our trips became an annual ritual: seven plays in five days, enhanced by wine-and-cheese picnics before them and Tim Horton’s doughnuts and coffee following. After I moved to Dallas, I’d fly to Chicago and meet her at the airport for the drive. Later, she retired to Boulder, Colo., but she’d drive to Chicago, and our routine continued. Once we even made our separate ways to Cedar City, Utah, to experience that state’s renowned Shakespeare Festival together. But far too soon, the aging began, and those play-going days were over.
In 2006, Marj’s hearing was almost gone. Her eyesight soon followed, but somehow she continued to correspond. Then she began going through old files, sending me clippings and copies of her treasures: a poem by Canadian author Margaret Atwood, words to an inspiring song about America by Irish immigrant Denis McCarthy, her favorite quotes from Christian philosopher Frederick Buechner.
I continued to send notes in large print; she would make some difficult phone calls in response. And she sent me a pewter pendant inscribed with the flower illustrating this quote from Hamlet: “There’s rosemary. That’s for remembrance.” It crossed in the mail with the identical one I sent to her …
Not too long ago, Marj’s son moved her to a nursing home in Loveland, closer to his family; that’s where she passed away. He told me, when he delivered the news, “I know how much she valued your friendship. Her trip to Canada with you was always the highlight of her year.”
When I asked what I could do that would best honor her memory, he said, “Her greatest legacy will be that those who were touched by her life will continue to practice the principles of her life: non-violence, and dignity and respect for all people … ”
Marj lived these ideals through lifetime, active involvement in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). So I mourn by dedicating a brick in her memory at its Juliette Fowler Home in Dallas, a residence for seniors of modest financial means. To honor its 120 years of service, a new prayer garden will feature a wall of dedicated bricks, with all the money they raise funding perpetual support for those residents who have no resources left at all. I’ve inscribed mine to “Marjorie Collins, a True Friend.”
The other irony: I pass the Fowler Home every time I drive to and from Samuell-Grand Park for performances of Dallas’ own Shakespeare Festival.