Can you have a birthday party without the birthday girl? You can if you miss her so much you don’t want to let go of her memory. You can if you think of it as a positive step on the road to healing and accepting a world without your friend in it.
I lost my best friend on December 10, 2013. Marilyn and I were “chosen sisters” for 61 years. Neither of us had sisters. When we met in the first grade, we were too scared to become “blood” sisters, so we became “spit” sisters instead.
At her memorial celebration, I gave one of the eulogies. But I knew there were other good friends who had stories to share and didn’t have the opportunity to speak.
I decided to give them an opportunity. I invited ten of Marilyn’s closest friends along with her three daughters to a “Remembering Marilyn on Her Birthday” gathering. What better day to gather than on her birthday — the first one since she died. On March 28, twelve of us got together for a potluck lunch and shared stories of how we met Marilyn and the impact she had on our lives.
Many of us had never met before and I thought it would be interesting to see Marilyn through all of our different lenses. After we’d each told our stories, we realized that the same qualities which made Marilyn so loveable to each of us were consistent in all of our descriptions.
“I met Marilyn during college sorority rush. She stood out as lovely, gracious and friendly.”
“How could someone so drop dead gorgeous be so nice? Marilyn broke the mold of my stereotypes about beautiful women being so full of themselves that they’re unapproachable.”
“Marilyn taught me to smile, be nice and be enthusiastic.”
“Four of us were celebrating a milestone birthday at a hotel. As we walked through the lobby, we passed an attractive young woman. Marilyn complimented her on her beautiful skirt.”
“She was like a mom to me. She welcomed me before I moved to the area and listened empathically when I vented about the challenges of being a mom. She was my best problem solver.”
“Whenever we traveled with Marilyn, she always got the award for the friendliest with her welcoming smile and ways.”
Marilyn was like a magnet. Everyone wanted to hang with her. She made friends everywhere she went. Even visitors at the De Young Museum used to linger after her docent tours just so they could say a few more words to her. She made people laugh; she told funny stories; she charmed you with her Colgate smile; and she validated you and made you believe in yourself.
As the twelve of us sat in a circle sharing laughter and tears on Marilyn’s birthday, we certainly felt her presence. We found comfort in the beautiful memories we carry in our hearts and the new ones we heard that day.