You may not have noticed her obituary in the paper, but our friend Jane died July 7. She was 87.
A likable kind of gal, Jane never married, didn't drive a car, walked and rode public transit to get groceries, see the doctor, go to work and pay bills.
If Jane had known you, she would have made you her friend. And on your birthday, your anniversary, for Christmas, at Easter time, on Valentine's Day, Saint Patrick's Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day and maybe even Independence Day, you would have received a cheery card personalized from her.
Whatever excuses that usually keep me from attending funerals — can't get away from work, too sad, I'll honor her in another way or any number of reasons to avoid feeling grief — didn't stop me from attending Jane's funeral.
As I drove to the church through rain on Monday, I dwelt on the 26 years I knew her. I thought about how hard she tried to fit into conversations, friendships, choir, ladies circle, and other groups.
Traveling down West Seventh Street and up Pearl, I thought of the Easter lily blooming in my flower garden. It was a potted plant she had purchased for the altar in memory of her father and "Mother Dear," and later gave to me.
When I turned onto Fifth and over to Sixth, I recalled her playful expressions: "Are you being mischievous?" or "Was I naughty?"
As I parked the car, I thought of the many canvas and plastic bags she lugged wherever she went. Her purse, rarely zipped, hung wide open, stuffed with papers, envelopes and whatnot, like an overflowing filing cabinet.
As I walked up the stairs to the church door, I remembered that for many years, I only knew Jane from greeting her on her way to and from the choir loft. Although, I'll never forget the first time I encountered her on a more personal level.
It was Thanksgiving Eve and we had just finished a traditional worship service. "So, do you have your turkey and all the trimmings ready for Thanksgiving?" I asked her, fully expecting a hardy, affirmative, "Yes!"
With a blank stare, she quietly said, "No, I'm all alone and no one has invited me."
"Well, consider yourself invited," I said, without hesitation, stunned by the hedge of loneliness and isolation that shaped her expression. That was the beginning of many years of Jane joining our family for all the major holidays.
After I settled into the last pew closest to the narthex, I counted the number of people at her funeral: 20, not counting about 15 family members and two pastors. I did this in the spirit of Jane, since she routinely reported a tally of how many people were in church each Sunday.
While leaving her funeral, I felt a twinge of guilt over how hard it was to visit her after she went to the nursing home.
Driving away from church, I reflected once again on Jane's efforts to fit in, and I knew all of her struggles were finally over. I thought of the Easter lily blooming in my garden and felt Jane close by.
A resident of Southeast South Dakota, Paula Damon is a national and state award-winning columnist. Her columns have won first-place in National Federation of Press Women, South Dakota Press Women and Iowa Press Women Communications Contests. In the 2009 and 2010 South Dakota Press Women Communications Contest, Paula's columns took first-place awards statewide. To contact Paula, email firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her blog at www.my-story-your-story.blogspot.com and find her on Facebook.
2010© Paula Damon