Friends Forever

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“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” Marcel Proust

She looked interesting. Unconventional in dress, not afraid of dirty garden hands as she worked the soil of her urban terrain. She propped plants on imaginative metal sculptures. Her pure white hair was an early gift from the gods of aging. I walked by often. I lived two blocks east and passed her house on my way to the park where I walked daily.

We exchanged greetings, occasionally discussing the weather as Minnesotans are wont to do, often commenting on the beauty of her garden and its seasonal changes.

I was new to the neighborhood. I’d moved in a year or two earlier, leaving my old neighborhood and a regular walking friend. My life had been upended and rearranged. I missed the camaraderie of a regular exercise partner. It is not as easy to make new friends in your 50s as it was in your 20s and 30s.

One day I asked if she walked. Yes, she did. Would you be interested in a weekly walk? An hour around the park? “We could try it,” she said. Later I learned that she was dubious of the invitation and doubted it would last long. That “yes” turned into twenty years of walking and friendship.

You can cover a lot of material in an hour a week. We were born the same year. While her academic credentials exceeded mine, her work in evaluation fit my data analysis background. She taught at the University of Minnesota. I was doing a little teaching of adult learners and welcomed her wisdom. We shared garden plants, family stories, and hard-earned life lessons. We walked and talked through all the calendar seasons and into the changing seasons of our lives.

While I was already retired from my first career, she was fairly new at the University. She had married right out of high school to an Army man she met while her father was stationed in Alaska. She soon had two children, was living in a trailer house near her husband’s Wisconsin family and left alone while he told stories into the night at the local bar. She walked her children past and sometimes into the nearby college, peeking around corners to see what life was like for the students she saw, not much younger than her. She feared they’d know she didn’t belong.

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A person could protect themselves from this aching sorrow by not bothering to venture into love. That would come at a much higher cost. Besides, there’s more room in a broken heart.When she told him she got a job at the college, he assured her they would never keep her. What could she offer? She took one college class followed by another, growing in confidence and amazement as she discovered a new side of herself.

Eventually the marriage ended and she moved to Vermont, where her parents lived after her father’s retirement. She found a job at the University of Vermont in Burlington and continued taking classes. Her BA was followed by an MA and then a move to the University of Georgia where she earned her PhD. She was not quite 50 years old. A position at the University’s School of Public Health brought her to Minnesota.

Besides being a smart and capable evaluator and teacher, she liked to play with art. I watched that blossom, too. She took classes, experimented with acrylics, watercolors, cold wax media. A multi-dimensional woman, she specialized in multi-media art. She fashioned books, collaborated with other artists, and took up welding.

Approaching retirement and needing a place to create, she designed a studio for her backyard. She and her wife built it together. Her art haven complete, she retired. Shortly thereafter she noticed some health issues. She experimented with a variety of remedies until an MRI scan found an invading growth in her abdomen originating from her ovaries. Ovarian cancer.

By now it was early 2020, just into the early days of COVID-19. Rather than walk today, she said, “Let’s visit in the studio.” I came, masked. She gave me the stark news. OH, NO. We broke from COVID protocols, hugged and wept. In a twist of fate, her oncologist and surgeon was a former evaluation mentee from the University.

Our walks changed. Sometimes shorter. Sometimes slower. Sometimes still our regular three miles. Sometimes with a Scrabble board during a chemo treatment.

In the respite from the cancer, after a heavy round of chemo and before it recurred in her lungs, she did a series of paintings on daylilies. She plucked the dying blossoms from her garden and watched them fade, shrink, and shrivel. She painted them in their various stages of dying. The pictures were beautiful, honest, and heartbreaking.

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Eileen’s daylily painting

We never stopped our weekly time together. After my move last summer, we drove to each other’s house and then walked. We continued the stories while we celebrated how lucky we were to have this precious friendship.

This spring we visited a book artist’s opening at a local art gallery. My friend had collaborated on one of the books. The pages were cut from her paintings. We parked a manageable two blocks away and walked slowly to the gallery. Once there, we rested on the window seat. We fitted our hands into white cotton gloves to touch the book and turn its delicate pages. After an hour, we started back to the car, arm in arm, stopping to admire a long narrow garden tucked between two brick houses in old St Paul. The homeowner engaged with us, sharing his garden story.

During the last couple of months, I walked to her studio where I found her perched on a stool, painting. She set me up for making art, too. She bound several of her practice sheets with additional blank pages to make a book for me, my own play space. She gathered watercolors, markers, and pens. I doodled and we talked—about life, about death, about love.

Eileen died June 10, 2024. She leaves a big hole in my life and in my heart. A person could protect themselves from this aching sorrow by not bothering to venture into love. That would come at a much higher cost. Besides, there’s more room in a broken heart.


Mary Lou Logsdon is a Spiritual Director in the Twin Cities. She teaches in the Sacred Ground Spiritual Direction Formation Program. She can be reached at logsdon.marylou@gmail.com.

Last Updated on July 6, 2024

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