I so greatly miss my friend Connie, as do so many others and yet she is with me still. She was a great and marvelous friend because she listened. Even when dying in the hospice, she had to know what had happened to you, how you felt, express how wondrous you were and how in your own way and time you would succeed. She changed your view of success to something less material and more full of joy.
I remember how even when growing ill, she spent hours rehearsing George for his singing part in an opera. He wasn’t very good, possibly even a bit terrible but there he was and there she was marching on. And he performed. She had always been that way, bringing out the good, the joy, the possibility in others. I remember she told me she was an English teacher in a New Jersey public high school – Fairlawn, just the right name for her post. She was friendly with the principal, a closeted gay woman and thanks to their friendship and deep understanding, when Connie asked for a room for all the disaffected students to meet, a tea urn and small stove, pillows for the floor to sit on, these were given and everyone came. Incidentally those students are following her still.
It was a place of invitation. The only requirement was that you be a human which of course, for Connie meant a restraint imposed by the school since she loved and catered to animals, all of them. I remember the pictures of a family of raccoons gathered on her fire escape to eat the bread crumbs she set out, Mommy, Daddy and little ones. I remember the skunk residing in her abandoned dog kennel set out on her garden area before they built another set of houses.
They came, the star students who were unsure of their futures or merely wanted to share their present, the gays, the straights, the blacks whose place in school like almost everywhere in white America was unsure, the students who struggled, the students unclear about their place in the world. She was there for all of them. She helped Linda choose to go to a school where she learned to teach the deaf to speak, something for which Linda’s parent’s never forgave Connie. They had an Ivy League school in mind. Linda later developed a new, fearless and delightful way for the deaf to acquire speech.
Connie listened. She listened to me. She always greeted me with a hug and likewise said goodbye with her increasingly thin body. We all held onto her as the greatest gift to us which of course she was. She taught us all the meaning of love which is to listen. She heard our inner song, applauded and harmonized with what we sang. She listened.
Written by Elan Golomb, Author of Trapped in the Mirror: Adult Children of Narcissistic Parents in Their Struggle for Self and Unloved Again: Breaking Your Serial Addiction (to be released February 2016)