January is a bittersweet month for me. There are lots of Birthday celebrations in January ~ there was my niece Erin (32 years), and Baby Ray entered the world on Erin's Birthday this year too! And then a few days later was my nephew William (22 years) , two days from now it will be my Aunt Florence's Birthday (85 years!), the day after that is Katie's Birthday (34 years), and we end the month on the 31st with Jayden's Birthday (7 years). That's the fun that life serves up in January. But unfortunately, January also brings up feelings of loss and sorrow. It was in the month of January that I lost my little friend Kerry to cancer (twelve years ago on the 21st).
And seven years ago today my friend Bernadette died.
Bernadette's only son and my youngest son were in grade school together but I actually met her through The Rosary Society at our Church. The "Rosarians" as we were called used to meet once a month to celebrate Mass together and then we would go over to the school hall to recite the Rosary and share coffee, cake, and chat. We also held other functions to celebrate Christmas and various holidays and Holydays, and we had fundraisers that we all participated in. One of the Rosarians also planned bus trips for us, they were usually day trips but once in awhile there would be a weekend trip too. Sometimes the trips were for a very quiet and prayerful retreat, other times the trips were not of a very quiet or prayerful nature ~ there were tours, or dinner theaters, and then there were the shopping trips! A few times a year there were trips planned for shopping at the outlet malls, and it was on one of these trips that I first met Bernadette. It was a Fall trip planned to the Flemington outlets in New Jersey so the Rosarians could get an early start on their Christmas shopping, and my best friend Barbara and I always made sure to reserve a spot on the bus for these trips.
Usually Barbara and I never stopped to eat a meal, we just packed a few bagels and snacks and we'd eat on the run, but this one time we didn't take along any food, so we stopped in a cafeteria style eatery for lunch. Bernadette came up to us and asked if she could sit with us and after lunch she said, "I hope you girls don't mind but I'm going to tag along with you for the rest of the day, you two are lots of fun!" And that was it ~ a friendship was born. Bernadette said we were fun but she was the one that kept us laughing all the time. She had such a wonderful sense of humor and she was so down-to-earth. I remember complimenting her hair once, Bernadette had a head of beautifully blond-streaked hair, and it was full and wavy, and she always looked like she just stepped out of a high-end salon, and she looked as if she should be on a hair product commercial, anyway, I said to Bernadette, "I want your hair", and Bernadette didn't miss a beat when she deadpanned back to me, "Oh yeah? Well, I'll trade you my hair for your body." (Bernadette was somewhat overweight and at the time I was much thinner than I am now.) Well, I just about fell off my chair laughing.
Bernadette always 'told it as it is'! We were at a Rosary meeting once and one of the priests showed up intoxicated, everyone was uncomfortable and didn't know really what to do or what to say, but, Bernadette turned right around and walked up to the President of the Rosary Society and said to her, "Father needs to leave, let's go escort him back to the rectory and tell him to sober up!"
I remember Bernadette saying to a group of us at one of the Rosary meetings that most likely after our kids graduated from grade school we'd probably lose touch with each other and that we should make a conscious effort to get together. And for awhile we did all keep in touch, but after a few years I was occupied with caring for my parents, and I no longer went to the Rosary meetings, and I no longer attended the dinners that the 'girls' got together for.
The last time I heard from Bernadette was a Christmas card in December 2004, she wrote and asked me to come back to the Rosary group, and to come out to dinner with them, and she included her phone number in the card.
At the time my Mom had recently gone into a nursing home, and my daughter Katie was due to deliver Jayden the next month, and I told myself that I would call Bernadette once the baby was born and we could catch up then. I never was able to make that phone call. Instead I got a call from our friend Millie telling me that Bernadette had passed away. She said that Bernadette had gone for some tests and it turned out that she was allergic to the dye in one of the tests, but they didn't find that out until it was too late. She said she had just visited Bernadette in the hospital and Millie said Bernadette was in good spirits and joking as usual, and she said she was going to sign herself out of the hospital because, as Bernadette put it, "These idiots here have no idea what they are doing! They just keep doing more tests and I just keep getting sicker and sicker!" The next morning Millie got a call from Bernadette's husband that she had passed away during the night from kidney failure.
Jayden was born a week later, and I found myself telling Bernadette all about him, and in the following weeks and months when I used to walk to the nursing home to visit my Mom, I would talk to Bernadette about that situation too. And I asked Bernadette to put in a good word for us.
I miss Bernadette. It's strange to feel that way, especially since I hadn't seen her for such a long while before she passed. And it's been years and years since she's left this world. But I miss her not being here. I've been thinking about her a lot lately, and I feel her absence in this world.
Peace to you, Bern.