My friend, Mildred, died on August 20 at the age of 102. I’ve written about her before here, albeit clandestinely. I was asked to speak at her memorial service last Friday to offer a reflection on my relationship with her. Here’s what I wrote:
I know that many of you could stand up here and talk about the ways Mildred touched your life. She had the amazing ability to make every person she knew feel as though they were special to her, a favorite among the many people she graciously invited into her world. It is for that reason, I am humbled and honored to have the opportunity to share my thoughts on the remarkable friendship I shared with Mildred Behn.
Mildred created the lesson plans for a women’s bible study she led for many years around her kitchen table until just weeks before she died.
I met her for the first time at a meeting we both attended here at the church with our mutual friend, Steve Nickles. Afterward she came up to me and boldly said, “We should be friends. Let’s get together some time.” I agreed, but getting together didn’t happen for another year or so. It was Steve who brought us together again via a small group study during Advent.
I will never forget one of the first times we got together outside that group. She wanted to introduce me to Brownies, one of her favorite lunch spots. She was still driving at the time and insisted on picking me up. I got into her turquoise sedan, and as she sped off with a lurch down the street, I wondered why I hadn’t been more concerned about letting a woman in her 90s drive me anywhere!
She must have felt my anxiety, because after zipping across Telegraph and using a parking lot as a turnaround, she recused herself from any liability should anything horrendous happen while she was driving. I laughed away most of my fear, offered up a silent prayer and made a mental note that I would do the driving in the future.
Mildred was a voracious reader and spoke numerous languages.
Our attraction for one another was fueled by our mutual love for writing. We shared journal entries, published articles and favorite books. We inspired one another to write more and she was always encouraging me to submit my work for publication. We were both regular writers for Monday Morning Meditations. She lavished our writing team with kudos for our offerings, but, truth be told, she was the best of the bunch. Her work was exceptional, her content often downright brilliant.
She said writing was “all the world to her.” From the day she learned to print, she began to write her own stories. It was only recently that I got to read some of them published during her time at Andrews Boarding School. Each one revealed her genius at being able to craft clever characters and compelling dialogue that captured not just your mind, but your heart.
I asked her once what she thought her life would have been had she pursued the writer’s life as a young woman. Her response was witty, but true.
“Yes, if I had not married, I’d have written and written and sent my stuff out, and today I’d be living alone without a kinfolk in the world, surrounded by my out-of-print books,” she said. “I have no regrets; a book won’t call you ‘Angel Mother’ and manage to get you to Bob Evans when the snow is 8 ft. deep [referring to her son, Ted].”
Our mutual love for words and one another was nurtured through email. We called each other keyboard pals, rather than pen pals. At last check, I had more than 1300 messages between us. Back and forth, back and forth, we shared the everyday happenings in our lives.
Mildred was glad that she learned to use email and Facebook in her 90s, allowing her to connect with people near and far.
I looked so forward to her name coming up in my inbox, and she, mine. Her subject lines and salutations were always witty and provocative. She addressed me with a myriad of pet names: Flower of the Field, Carpet-weevil, Rosebud, Bambina, Little Hedgehog, and the one that stuck ‘til the day she died, Trinket. She liked the name January for herself, and so I referred to her by that name when I wasn’t calling her Mom, Mumsy or Millie.
Her messages often made me laugh out loud, challenged me to think differently on matters, and always reminded me I was loved. She found the everyday happenings of my life fascinating, and I felt honored to hear the amazing stories of her childhood and growing up years. She said she wasn’t one to give advice, but she gave it to me – gently, gracefully – when I needed to hear it, always with my best interest at heart.
Her messages could be manipulative, too, with not-so-subtle reminders that I hadn’t visited in a while and warnings that her death was imminent! Needless to say, that worked well in getting me over there.
Always, her messages were infused with love and laughter and left me wondering how I got so lucky to be her friend. One day I will sift through all those emails to share with others her wise thoughts – and wise cracks.
When I think of my Mildred, I think of a woman of strength, courage and great faith, someone who had weathered many a difficult storm and yet chose a positive outlook on life. She was a woman before her time and yet one who made peace with the time in which she lived. Until her last days, she walked with an urgency and purpose and her mind was sharper than the youngest among us.
Sitting on the swing in her backyard was one of Mildred’s favorite pastimes.
She could have been known far and wide for her writing, and yet her influence extends to so many through small, but powerful, acts of kindness and love. She was a fireball of truth and love that captured my heart for life. She was my friend, mentor, pastor, mother, sister, keyboard pal, and so much more.
As I sat next to her on her dying bed, I stroked her hand and told her how much I loved her, how much she had meant to me and how happy I was to have been her friend. She said,” I know, dear, I know how much you have loved me, and, oh, how I have loved you.”
The years I had with her weren’t enough and yet they are full of memories that I will never forget.