Monday afternoon I logged onto my facebook account and saw a message from a woman I’d never met, though I knew right away who she was. It was my Godmother’s daughter, delivering unexpected and sad news.
My Godmother, Audrey, held a quiet, steady presence throughout my childhood. Every year around my birthday a giant box arrived on our front porch. Inside were gently used hand-me-downs of her daughter’s clothes and a beautifully wrapped box with a new sweater inside. She always seemed to know my size and what I liked. Even as a kid, I got excited about a box of clothes. It was a connection to my mother and the past that wasn’t ordinarily acknowledged.
Audrey had been my real mother’s best friend in high school. My grandmother loved to look through old photo albums with me, and she always lingered on pictures of Audrey. Audrey and my mom with their dates before some dance, all bouffants and dark lipstick and big smiles. Audrey sitting pensively in her front lawn in full ballerina costume, her tulle skirt arranged around her in a perfect circle. My grandmother told me about Audrey’s elopement. She ran off to marry a man her parents didn’t approve of, or maybe they just thought she was too young. Audrey left my mother’s life, but only for a little while.
The only picture I have of Audrey is of and her young husband holding me over the baptismal pool at my christening. Audrey’s platinum blond hair is cropped fashionably in early 70s style and they both look happy together.
When I turned 21, the annual packages from Audrey stopped, though I recall there was at least one more the year we lived in Alexandria, Virginia. I remember this because I got a box with computer equipment clearly intended for someone else. I had to use detective skills to track her down and when we spoke on the phone I was surprised by how tiny and light her voice was. She sounded like Marilyn Monroe.
We were out of touch for a number of years. I moved around a lot, she got busy, life happened. When we moved minutes from the return address on her cards all those years, I sent her a letter. I held vague fantasies about meeting regularly for coffee at the same mall where she would have shopped every year for my birthday sweaters. When I didn’t hear back, I thought the worst, though I never gave up.
Last February, I found her on facebook. I sent a friend request with a message explaining who I was. It had been about 11 years since I’d heard from her at that point. She wrote back almost immediately that of course she knew who I was and she was delighted to hear from me. I learned she no longer lived in the area, which explained why she never replied to that last letter.
Over the next year, she was my #1 Fan on facebook. Whenever I posted a picture of my girls, she was the first to ‘like’ it and comment. Her comments were glowing and unconditionally supportive. I could have posted a picture of burnt toast and she would have praised how well I burnt it, and genuinely meant it.
I’d stopped posting much of anything on facebook, so the last thing she commented on was my search for cookie bar recipes on an affiliate site just before Christmas. It was one of those accidental postings facebook is so good at, but her comment was just as heartfelt as when I’d posted family photos. She made such an effort to reconnect. I can’t describe how much joy she brought to my life in the last year.
And now she is gone.
The message from her daughter the other night was unexpected and heartbreaking. Audrey died suddenly after routine surgery. Her family was of course shattered by loss, and I felt touched they thought to reach out to me, let alone that they knew who I was. Audrey’s daughter asked me to give her father a call, which I promised I would do.
Audrey was still married to the man she eloped with as a young woman. They were married 51 years, which feels impossibly long in the best possible way. I won’t lie and say I wasn’t scared to call this man I’d never communicated with before. What would I say to him? What could I say to him?
Yesterday morning I was all nerves as I waited for a decent hour to call. One of his sons answered the phone and I spoke briefly to him, but he told me his dad had gone out to run errands and would be back in a couple of hours. I was all nerves again until I had a chance to call in the late afternoon, but this time I got him and every worry I’d had vanished. No surprise really, but he was as decent and kind as Audrey.
We spoke only briefly, but the conversation had substance and comfort. He told me Audrey had treasured our conversations on facebook. He remembered his days with her when my mom was still alive and reflected that both girls are gone now. While I’m not sure of the exact nature of my spiritual beliefs, I like to think those girls are now reunited in some way. The thought brings me peace.
At the end of our phone call, Audrey’s husband asked me if I would keep in touch with him via email, and I said I would be delighted. All of the worrying I’d done to wonder what I could say to this man – my Godfather, really – and how I might honor Audrey now that she is gone, and he made this simple, perfect request. I am not a phone person, but boy can I email.
I am glad I kept reaching out to her all those years, though she is the one who kept it going at the end. I am heartbroken that our time was short and that I will never get to have coffee with my #1 Fan, but I am ever grateful for her presence throughout my life.