Time, and its passage, have been on my mind of late. But mostly time has been on my mind for a few weeks as a question mark.
How long does it take to heal from a great loss? Each year around this time I am overcome with a sense of melancholy. I used to blame the winter blues or spring allergies. Then I heard about the anniversary reaction, described in Psychology Today as “the annual echo of a trauma or loss such as the death of a beloved, a nightmarish experience. ...” You get the idea. My spring melancholy stems, I think, from the suicide of an intimate friend more than 30 years ago. I was blindsided that bright March morning to learn one of the smartest and most vivacious women I’d met would take her own life. Part of me still won’t accept it. I guess time for healing is relative. And ongoing. Melancholy is an improvement over agony.
How long is friendship? I am blessed with friendship. I’ve often heard you know you’re really close to someone when you go for long periods, perhaps years, and you can pick up as if you saw each other yesterday. I know this. I ran into two such friends within as many days last week. First was Ellen Gramberg. I’ve know Ellen since I was a teenager. We have several mutual friends, with whom we once had many adventures. I saw Ellen at Food City. Ten minutes of talking with Ellen turned my after-work grocery run into an adventure. We talked good times at Skoby’s, and a group trip to Hawaii one Easter years ago, and pets. And we talked about friends. We hugged and promised to have dinner soon. The next night Mom and I were walking into Kroger, and getting a buggy just ahead of us was a friend to us both: Julana C. McClellan. I first got to know Julana at the Kingsport University Center. Mom got to know her then, too, but also later on through church. Julana and I talked about the old days and parted with a hug and a promise to keep each other in our prayers. Friendship never dies.
My greatest test of time came as I glanced through the obituaries and recognized a woman’s name, then face. I was once close friends with her children. Because of my upbringing, I immediately checked for time and place of the visitation. And then doubt clouded my thoughts. I haven’t seen any of them in 25 ... no, wait 30 ... 35 years! They won’t even know me. I might not recognize them. You know people just don’t go to the funeral home like they used to. I’d be weird to show up at the funeral home to offer condolences to a family I haven’t been in touch with in that long. I asked friends for advice. How long is too long to consider yourself a potential comfort to old friends? Each told me to trust my gut instinct, which the next day led me down to Hamlett-Dobson. It was what I consider a traditional visitation, in the big room. Open casket (she looked good) against the far wall. It was early. But a few mourners were gathered near the long “family” sofa to the right. I walked in and signed the book and tried casually to see if I recognized anyone. I started toward the casket. And out of the corner of my eye I saw a woman rise from the sofa and step forward to greet me. When I turned and our eyes met, I saw the bolt of recognition as she, the oldest daughter, said “Johnny? Johnny Osborne?!”
“Yes, it’s me.”
A long hug followed. And then “I’m so glad you came.”
“Well, I just wanted to let you know I’m sorry about your mom.”
This scene repeated twice more with two other daughters. Thirty-five years melted away in 35 seconds.
I’m so glad I went.
I searched for a source for that quote from the sundial shot in “Gone with the Wind.” It appears to have originated with Benjamin Franklin’s writings in Poor Richard’s Almanack in 1746. According to the Franklin Institute, named in honor of “America’s first scientist,” Franklin wrote, “Dost thou love life? Then do not squander Time; for that’s the Stuff Life is made of.”
J.H. Osborne covers Sullivan County government for the Times News. Email him at [email protected]