Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - February 5, 2016

Lifeline letters from a friend

Seeing the recent television coverage of the 30th anniversary of the Challenger explosion brought the feelings back - shock, disbelief, sadness. I was in a hospital lobby on that Jan. 28, watching the live coverage as the joyous astronauts entered the shuttle and their family members observed from the stands. But only 73 seconds into lift-off, the shuttle exploded, leaving the world to mourn the deaths of those on board.

I was in that hospital because my first husband Jerome was a patient there. A little more than a month before, a brain aneurysm had left him in a coma from which he would never recover. His mother Rita was with me at the time, but had left the lobby for a few minutes. When she returned, she saw my tear-stained face. I knew she thought Jerome had died because she turned pale and asked, "Gloria, what's wrong?"

It was only six days later - Feb. 3, 1986 - that Jerome would die. My world turned upside down. My best friend had left me - and I was inconsolable. But I was pregnant, and the child growing inside me gave me a reason to keep on living.

The support of family and friends helped immensely, too. One friend in particular - my college roommate Deb - seemed to instinctively know what I needed. From the time Jerome died until more than a year after, she sent regular letters to let me know she was with me in spirit although we were miles apart.

Just this past week, I opened the box containing the more than 125 letters. I hadn't read them since I received them, but the recent death of a 50-year-old neighbor reminded me how much they helped me in the grief process. I have mentioned Deb's letters to husband Art over the years. My comments stuck with him, and he began writing daily emails to the widow of the 50-year-old - just little messages to let her know that someone is thinking of her.

I've often told Deb that her letters kept me sane and gave me something to look forward to during a very dark time in my life.

Jerome's funeral service was on Feb. 5. On Feb. 6, Deb wrote:

I thought the service was really nice - Jerome would have approved! ...I had an idea for a weekend sometime. I would meet you in Topeka and we could get together with Patty and Karen. Later in the spring maybe. I know it is going to hurt like hell to be alone in your house. I wish I could be there for you. Just don't exhaust yourself overworking at your office... Once the baby comes, home will seem like home again - it'll have a purpose to come home to. You are a strong survivor - I'm so proud and inspired by you. But you're human, too.

Just know when you're having a rough time and are pacing and feel so alone, you can call me any time 24 hours a day - call collect...

And baby Mariya did come. It was the day I have often described as the happiest and saddest day of my life - happiest because my beautiful daughter was born, but saddest because Jerome wasn't there to share it with me.

On Sept. 8, the date of Jerome's and my wedding anniversary, Deb sent a card with this verse: "All life is changing, growing, becoming, and it is in times of transition that we find a greater meaning, a deeper understanding. New beginnings aren't always easy ... so if you need someone to help or listen... I'm here."

On the inside, she wrote:

I know this is a rough day. Don't spend your energies trying to forget. Smile thru the tears at what beautiful memories you have to cherish. Life is eternal in those treasured memories. You will get thru today just like you have every other day. Give Mariya an extra love pat. For without the event of this day 7 years ago, you wouldn't have her to love. My thoughts and prayers are with you - as always.

And so it went, week after week, month after month - Deb's letters kept coming through thick and thin. They included inspirational verses, news about her two young girls, ages 4 and 6 at the time and plans for us to get together. In December, she sent little gifts so I could open one each day until Christmas arrived. She knew that special days and holidays were particularly difficult to get through.

In one card near Christmas, she wrote:

... I think it will be good for you to go get some homegrown holiday cheer on the farm. Give you some feelings of your childhood and the comfort of home. You need that right now. A time to reflect. Stock up on your Kleenex for the upcoming couple of weeks. But remember to let the joy of Mariya shine thru. This is a Christmas of big ups and downs. Next year will be easier. Except you'll be pulling a toddler down from climbing the tree ...

I asked Deb last week how she came up with the idea of sending me notes and cards and packages.

... I used to get lots of catalogs and items would be featured that had friendship themes and I noticed the ones that especially pertained to coping and 'hanging in there.' I wanted to get them all and send to you, but couldn't afford that. So I thought I could copy the thoughts and verses and write them in a letter. There were so many that I thought I'd string them out in several letters.

Then the idea came, "why not do a series approach?" - send you a letter every day no matter how short or long - just something that you knew would be waiting on you every day in your mailbox.

You needed a constant in your life and something that you could count on daily. This was the only way I could reach out and give you a daily hug. Wow - if we'd had email back then, it would have been easier and quicker! But I just gathered a pile of envelopes and stamps and variations of stationery and it was part of my daily routine to do my Gloria hugs letter every day.

It was therapy to me too cause it hurt me to see you hurting so much too. And I wanted to be sure that you stayed alive and healthy for the sake of the baby. I prayer promised that to Jerome.

It might be a good thing that I didn't live closer cause I tend to think that FOOD is a nice sympathetic gesture. If I'd brought that to you daily, you would have been one fat pregnant lady!

I find it interesting that you still have the letters but haven't read them over the years. It isn't necessary to read them - just having them there in a box gives you the feelings that they did years ago. The love and security you received from them will always be there and that is enough.

Yes, Deb, your letters gave me the lifeline I needed to survive - and I'll be forever grateful to you for that compassionate, loving gesture. Thank you!

Gloria with the box of letters from Deb.

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