A dear old friend of 50 years is like a ship's anchor

  • A recent lobster dinner reminded Susan Anderson-Khleif of a dear friend.

    A recent lobster dinner reminded Susan Anderson-Khleif of a dear friend. Courtesy of Susan Anderson-Khleif

Updated 1/9/2022 10:19 AM

My friend Mary Louise taught me how to eat a whole New England fresh lobster. That was in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a long time ago -- 50 years. And she taught Baheej, too.

We came from the Midwest so we had no idea how to approach a whole cooked lobster on the plate. In those days, there was no such thing as a fresh live lobster in Minnesota or Wisconsin. All lobsters there were frozen "tails," then broiled or grilled in a restaurant.


Well, three weeks before Christmas, I learned Mary Louise had died in March, very suddenly from a stroke. Of course no one knew to call me. I was in her phone book and email directory, but she had lots of friends. She was very social and active, yet I discovered by accident.

I would have found out at Christmas when we always communicate and my Christmas card and gift may have been returned to me. However, for some reason, I tried to call her earlier last year and her telephone was disconnected. So I called her condominium complex and found out what happened. She was 10 years older than I am, but still active and in good health, I thought.

You know, it's very hard to lose such a friend. Really hard. I am still a little in disbelief. Usually we communicated around our spring birthdays, in April and May, but for some unknown reason we didn't in 2021.

My sister Mary's best friend, Mona -- they had known each other from childhood -- died a few years ago. It was so awful for my sister. Still is. So I had some inkling of what a blow it is to lose a really old friend. But of course, as with all grief, it is more real when it happens to you.

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An old friend is similar to a secure anchor for both parties, keeping each other grounded, so that loss is awful. And there's a loss of a piece of your personal history. A dear person who "knew you way back then." Then there's a loss of the continuity -- loss of keeping in touch and keeping up with what's going on now.

How should we handle this sort of eventuality. It's hard to know. It's helpful when executors put announcements in newspapers where the person has lived or studied, or their hometown. Yet that wouldn't have helped me in this case because there was no reason to think of putting a notice in Chicago-area newspapers. I did publish a death notice for Baheej, and many old friends saw the announcements.

When you realize something is wrong, try to contact the place where the person lives. Most condominium or townhouse neighborhoods have an administrative office or association president. Or reach out to a relative if you have such a contact. I didn't.

I was able to reach such an office and left word for the emergency contact they had, which turned out to be another dear friend of Mary Louise's. She is the executor. She actually called me and explained what happened. That meant a lot to me and helped.


So the point is: This is another challenge in the grief journey -- sometimes not knowing about the death of old friends. It's unpleasant, yet there are nice and caring people out there who will help.

So I put a Christmas present under the tree in December for Mary Louise next to a gift for my beloved Baheej. I will always remember Mary Louise, her smiling face, her kindness, her intelligence and moral strength.

I'm sure she knows I recently went to dinner and had a fresh lobster, and ate it exactly as she taught me to do.

• Susan Anderson-Khleif of Sleepy Hollow has a doctorate in family sociology from Harvard, taught at Wellesley College and is a retired Motorola executive. Contact her at sakhleif@comcast.net or see her blog longtermgrief.tumblr.com. See previous columns at www.dailyherald.com/topics/Anderson-Kleif-Susan.

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