I found out yesterday that a dear old friend, Eileen Kelly, passed away in April. We’d been estranged for about a dozen years so the grief is somewhat muted by the fact that I’d already grieved the loss of our relationship. And, oh, did I ever grieve. It was a sharply painful loss and I’m guessing it was painful for her as well. I am pretty flexible up to a point and then I reach a point where I just can’t, well, can’t do it anymore.
Look at that picture up there. Me, my sister, Judi, and Eileen. Now I’m the only one left. Of course, that girl with the makeup and painted nails hasn’t really been around for a long time either.
I met Eileen when we were 14 and she moved to town. When I got home from school that day I excitedly told my mother that I’d actually met a girl who had visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art, because that’s just the kind of 14 year old I was.
We lived together in the dorms first semester, switching out to other roommates the following semester. Our relationship was probably always complicated by the weaknesses we both brought to it but I loved her dearly. In college, her parents lived in Brazil so she often spent holidays with my family. My parents considered her something of a fourth daughter. When Judi was at Emory Hospital for her Whipple procedure, Eileen flew in to stay with her after I had to go back to Illinois for work. She was at my side when both boys were born and was the only person to get the honorific of ‘Aunt’ without being a sibling to Ernie or me.
We emailed a bit about two years ago. She sent me some photos she had of the boys and us and when Billy Joe Shaver died we wrote back and forth a bit. I hesitantly said we’d be happy if she visited but I got no response. Of course, it was the pandemic then, and I’m guessing she wasn’t in a place to do that anyway.
I texted Owen late last night as I sometimes do and told him. He immediately called me, saying, “THE Eileen?”
I am grieving for her, and for all that loved her. I’m so grateful her sister called me yesterday. I also grieve for everyone who deals with mental health issues, whether their own or those of a family member. With older, slightly wiser eyes I can see that those issues were always there.
I feel strangely empty.
Love to all that loved her. She may not have believed it, but there were many.