My dad used to say that no matter what a person was like in life, after they passed away they were suddenly wonderful people. Don’t believe it? Watch the local news. You’ll never hear anything but glowing praise for anyone who’s been killed in an accident or in violent acts. I think this is simply a human tendency to only remember the positive things about a person after their death.
I recently learned that a childhood friend passed away…a year ago. I hadn’t seen or spoken to her in several years. We’d had a parting of ways over something stupid…a little pocket-sized TV. It seemed important at the time, but in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t such a big deal at all.
We’d been friends since I was twelve and she was thirteen. We met in junior high. She wasn’t an easy person to love–an awful thing to say, I know, under the circumstances, but it was the truth. Even when we were kids, she could be rude, insensitive, a real pain in the butt. As another friend once said, “Tell her you crapped a ten-foot turd and she’ll say hers was twelve feet.” (Her words, not mine!)
That was Shirley. No matter what anyone else did, she insisted she did it better. No matter what anyone else had, she’d claim hers was better. We’d both had dreams of being published novelists. I made it; she didn’t. She came to visit, but she refused to look at the shelves of books I’d published or even acknowledged that I’d published them. She just couldn’t accept it.
I’ll never forget the weekend she invited herself for a sleepover. We were in junior high. I knew bringing Shirley and my dad together was a bad idea, but she was pushing for a weekend visit and I didn’t know how to politely get out of it, so I asked Mom, who, predictably, said yes.
It was a disaster from the minute she arrived. Mom had gone out of her way to make Shirley feel welcome…but it did no good. No matter how Mom tried, there was no pleasing that girl. The tuna salad Mom made for lunch was “okay, but not as good as my mother makes.” She compared everything to her own mother’s ways of doing things–and Mom always ended up on the losing end. It made me angry…and confused. I’d been to Shirley’s home several times, and her mother had done no cooking while I was there (her dad, however, was a good cook). Her mother seemed to ignore her, favoring her elder sister. I couldn’t recall her ever having a kind word for Shirley.
Mom was patient and tried to overlook Shirley’s attitude. Dad, however, took me aside and insisted I send her home pronto.
Maybe Shirley had created an idealized mother in her own mind to compensate for the less-than-warm woman I’d known. I don’t know. But her attitude had cost her friends. I found myself wondering if she’d had anyone left at the end. I knew she had Parkinson’s disease and had spent her last days in a nursing home. I wondered if anyone had visited her there. I don’t know. I guess I never will.
The funeral home’s online notice indicated she’d been buried with no viewing or service. The burial at the cemetery was listed only as “private.” It sounded so bleak…and saddened me to even think she might have been buried with no one there to pay their respects or mourn her. Yes, she had a lot of faults…but she was also someone who’d be there for you if you were in trouble, no questions asked. She once invited Collin and me to move in with her when things weren’t going so well for us after Mom died. In spite of her abrasiveness, she had a good heart…one I always suspected she kept hidden away because it had been broken too many times.
Shirley, I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you at the end. I could say I would have been, had I known…but I found your obituary with no difficulty. I’m sure if I’d made the effort to look, I would have found you….